Prior to puck drop, Matt Dumba stood with a raised fist during the U.S and Canadian national anthems on Sunday, Aug. 2nd, to peacefully protest racism and show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The support, or lack thereof, that he received from teammates, fans, and even the NHL is simply disappointing.
The day before, Dumba delivered a short speech about racism in the sport of hockey at the Oilers-Bolts game and proceeded to kneel during the U.S national anthem. He stood for the Canadian anthem. Dumba received a lot of backlash and criticism on twitter regarding this decision, and while Canada is in no way off the hook for racism (especially when it comes to First Nations people), many people are failing to see the larger issue. Dumba later stated that he regret not kneeling for both anthems, and kept his first raised for both nations anthems the next night.
Before I go any further, just know that it is not anyone else’s place to comment on how or why or under what circumstances someone peacefully protests.
That being said, many people still took issue with Dumba’s display of support, and for many different reasons.
For one, he was alone. No other teammate or member of the opposing team rose their fist in solidarity, which is frankly very sad to see. To make matters worse, the NHL is using him as a poster boy for their collective support of BLM, using his image to speak out about racism so they don’t have to. In his isolation, it conveys to players and fans that racism is a Black person or POC issue exclusively. That is not the case. Everyone has a role in combating racism, especially white people in a predominantly white sport. It sends the wrong message that it is up to POC to speak out and can be extremely ostracizing as was made clear with Matt Dumba protesting alone. This is an issue everyone needs to pay attention to, regardless of race, and could go a long way in making it clear to fans that players support an inclusive and supportive environment.
And of course, there are still people who refuse to acknowledge the issue at hand, and instead, choose to focus on the action rather than its symbolism.
However, on Aug. 3rd during the matchup between the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights, Tyler Seguin, Robin Lehner, Jason Dickinson, and Ryan Reaves took a knee for the duration of the national anthem. Many hockey fans were relieved to see NHL players, especially white NHL players, participate in what has become a keystone of the #BlackLivesMatter movement across all professional sports leagues.
Although kneeling is largely symbolic, it is also a massive and controversial statement— something we don’t usually see from the NHL. But this wasn’t the NHL. This was four individual players who took it upon themselves to do what they believe is right, and necessary, to make strides in combating racism.
I think a lot of people, me included, were surprised to see Seguin take a knee (given his frat-boy-esque reputation) but it speaks volumes to see such a high profile player do so, and is a glimmer of hope in making hockey an accessible and welcoming sport. Seguin attended a Black Lives Matter protest back in June and released an incredibly raw statement about issues surrounding race in North America.
While there is still much more work to be done across all aspects of hockey from ensuring an accepting environment in youth leagues to encouraging more professional players to use their platform to speak out, this is progress.