The puck dropped Saturday in Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for the pandemic-delayed 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
There is an unusual air to the games without live audiences and with social distancing protocols in place. And amidst all of that, there is also the peaceful but very present uprising against social and racial injustice in North America and around the world. Both were front and centre prior to the opening faceoffs on Saturday.
Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel during a national anthem at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks Game 1 pregame ceremony.
He spoke about social and racial injustice before he knelt during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner.
While kneeling, he was flanked by the Oilers Darnell Nurse and the Blackhawks Malcolm Subban. Each had a hand on Dumba’s shoulder during the American national anthem. Dumba is half Filipino, while Nurse and Subban are of African descent.
Dumba on Social and Racial Injustice
The likes of Muhammad Ali, who refused to fight for America while African-Americans were mistreated at home, and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who became a martyr for kneeling during the anthem, would be proud.
All three, Nurse, Dumba and Subban, are born and raised Canadians. Neither knelt for O Canada, which was sung by Michael Bublé in Rogers Place, pre-recorded.
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“During this pandemic, something unexpected but long overdue occurred: The world woke up to the existence of systemic racism and how deeply rooted it is within our society,” said Dumba. “Racism is a man-made creation and all it does is deteriorate from our collective prosperity. Racism is everywhere. Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it.
“On behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance, we vow and promise to stand up for justice and fight for what is right. I know first-hand as a minority playing the great game of hockey the unexplainable and difficult challenge that come with it. The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time they enter an arena. I stand in front of you today on behalf of those groups and promise you that we will fight against injustice and fight for what is right.”
Black Lives Matter
In the middle of the speech, an emotional Dumba also said, “Black Lives Matter” and “the life of Breonna Taylor matters”.
Taylor was an emergency medical technician who was shot and killed by police when they entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 23. The 26-year-old Regina native added, “hockey is a great game but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us.”
A similar ceremony took place in Toronto prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins game, however, no players knelt for either of the anthems.
The Star-Spangled Banner lyrics speak of war, and while O Canada does have the line “we stand on guard for thee,” there is no other reference to war in the song. “Standing on guard for thee” can be repurposed to mean supporting our fellow Canadians, as Nurse and Subban did for Dumba, and as did all players from both teams as they stood in a circle at centre ice.
Hockey Diversity Alliance
Dumba wore a stark black “Hockey Diversity Alliance” hoodie with white lettering for the ceremony, which also is meant to pay tribute to healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance was started in early June this year by seven current and former NHL players. The purpose is “to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
The group appointed San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu as co-heads of the organization. Named to the group’s executive committee were Dumba, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley, Buffalo Sabres forward Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers forward Chris Stewart and former NHL forward Joel Ward.