On a night when the NBA and WNBA decided that the joy of basketball was inappropriate, the NHL decided to hit the ice. On a night when Naomi Osaka wrote, “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction,” the NHL and its players decided that playoff hockey was still necessary. Two days ago, the Detroit Lions cancelled their practice with the statement that “football is not important today.” The NHL looked around the room on August 26th, 2020 and decided to close its eyes to the world collapsing around it.
The NHL has been a constant disappointment with respect to racial injustice. Full stop. They spend time crafting statements and putting up the “End Racism” graphic on their screens but they don’t get it. When they came out with #WeSkateFor … Black Lives it was clear they didn’t get it. As Hemal Jhaveri wrote for USA Today sports:
To be clear, Black Lives Matter is not about eradicating all racism but about addressing racial injustice committed against Black people. It does not encompass the beast of all racism, yet speaks to the Black experience as it relates to systemic and institutional oppression…The movement has specific goals, like calling for an end to racial profiling, police brutality and stop-and-frisk practices that disproportionately target Black men. There are real end goals to the movement, and they go far beyond the nice but not tangible “End Racism.”
Black Lives Matter is about focus and the NHL decided on breadth. Last night was about focus and the NHL decided on distraction.
Yesterday, Kim Davis (VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs), said on a Shes4Sports panel that the NHL had to be willing to lose fans and season ticket holders to stand for something. Yet, a few hours later when a prime opportunity presented itself to join a historic moment that the world of sports has yet to see, the NHL stood on the side of oppression. There’s no other way to explain what happened. They stood on the wrong side and history will remember that.
All of the other leagues are being led by their Black players. The Black and other players of colour have tried to lead the NHL but there just aren’t enough of them to form a critical mass. In the case of the NHL, it will have to be white people (either on the side of the league or the NHLPA) that step up. This will be an important statement and exercise in solidarity to stand up for something that literally does not affect you in the same way. But if and when it does happen, will anyone still care or is the damage to the league’s reputation and character already done?