The NHL was the only professional sports league in North America not to postpone games Wednesday in protest of Jacob Blake’s shooting by police, a decision that drew criticism from two prominent players.
“NHL is always last to the party on these topics,” Minnesota Wild star defenseman Matt Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver.
Dumba, who became the first NHL player to kneel during the national anthem earlier this month, added that “it’s kind of sad and disheartening for me and for members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and I’m sure for other guys across the league. But if no one stands up and does anything, then it’s the same thing. That silence. You’re just outside, looking in on actually being leaders and evoking real change when you have such an opportunity to do so.”
The NBA postponed all three of its playoff games Wednesday in Orlando after the Milwaukee Bucks around 4 p.m. refused to play in response to the police shooting involving Blake, a seemingly unarmed black man in Kenosha, Wis., which is less than 45 minutes from Milwaukee.
Within a couple hours, several MLB, WNBA and MLS games — the NFL is still in training camp — were postponed at the direction of players, as protests around the country were reignited. NBA players also are contemplating whether to call of the rest of the postseason and leave the bubble they have been isolated in over the last month.
But the NHL, which has notoriously lagged behind others with regards to social justice causes, carried on business as usual for the most part.
A moment of silence was held during the pregame portions of Wednesday’s games, according to ESPN, and a video screen read “End Racism” in the Toronto arena where one part of the NHL playoff is being played.
Prior to the Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning game, which began at 8 p.m., the public-address announcer acknowledged that “Racism has been embedded in our society for far too long,” adding that the NHL is “committed” to fighting racial injustices.
After the game, which Boston lost 7-1, captain Zdeno Chara said that by the time he and his teammates arrived at the rink and found out about the other postponements, it was too late for them to discuss the matter and potentially do the same.
“We support fighting against racism and injustice,” Chara told reporters. “There’s different ways to express that fight. NBA players expressed their opinions about it by boycotting the games today. We support NBA players and all the leagues that showed that support.”
The Avalanche and Stars played a game that began at 8:30 p.m., around four hours after the postponements began taking place.
San Jose Sharks star forward Evander Kane, who is black, helped form the Hockey Diversity Alliance with Dumba in early June following the police killing of George Floyd, in an effort to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
He also expressed disappointment with the NHL’s response.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t really heard much in regards to Jacob Blake’s attempted murder,” Kane told Sportsnet. “It’s unfortunate, we’re obviously talking about another black man unarmed being shot in the back in front of his children.
“But again, we had these conversations earlier with the George Floyd killing of continuing the conversation, furthering the conversation, everybody wanting to be better and making sure that we’re more vocal and we do better moving forward. Here’s another example, unfortunately, but it’s also another example of the lack of with regards to our league and our players and our media that cover our game.
Dumba and Kane were not alone in voicing their displeasure.
Former NHL goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who is white and an analyst for “Hockey Night in Canada” said, “I don’t think we should be here. I think the NHL should postpone the games. I really feel we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter.”
Hockey has long struggled with racism, and that was amplified several months before the United States’ reckoning on racism, when Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters resigned after former NHLer Akim Aliu accused Peters of using racial slurs toward him a decade ago in the minor leagues.
Aliu helped create the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
Blake, 29, was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police officer as he approached his vehicle Sunday in an incident that was caught on camera and ricocheted across social media. Blake’s family said he is paralyzed from the waist down. The shooting is currently under investigation and the officer was placed on leave.