In the wake of protests around the U.S. following the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, NHL players have taken to social media to express their feelings on racial inequality.
Toews takes to Instagram
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews called for everyone to “fight hate and fear with love and awareness” in a powerful statement made on his Instagram account.
“A lot of people may claim these riots and acts of destruction are a terrible response. I’ll be the first to admit that as a white male that was also my first reaction.
But who am I to tell someone that their pain is not real? Especially when it is at a boiling point and impossible to hold in anymore. It’s obviously coming from a place of truth. This reaction isn’t coming out of thin air.
I’m not condoning or approving the looting, but are we really going to sit here and say that peaceful protesting is the only answer? There has been plenty of time for that, and if it was the answer we would’ve given it our full attention long ago.
Listen to these two men debate. They are lost, they are in pain. They strived for a better future but as they get older they realize their efforts may be futile. They don’t know the answer of how to solve this problem for the next generation of black women and men. This breaks my heart.
I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears. It has pushed me to think, how much pain are black people and other minorities really feeling? What have Native American people dealt with in both Canada and US? What is it really like to grow up in their world? Where am I ignorant about the privileges that I may have that others don’t?
Compassion to me is at least trying to FEEL and UNDERSTAND what someone else is going through. For just a moment maybe I can try to see the world through their eyes. Covid has been rough but it has given us the opportunity to be much less preoccupied with our busy lives. We can no longer distract ourselves from the truth of what is going on.
My message isn’t for black people and what they should do going forward. My message is to white people to open our eyes and our hearts. That’s the only choice we have, otherwise this will continue.
Let’s choose to fight hate and fear with love and awareness. Ask not what can you do for me, but what can I do for you? Be the one to make the first move. In the end, love conquers all.
The 46-year-old Floyd died last week after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee for nearly nine minutes. The method used to restrain Floyd ended up cutting blood and air flow to his brain, causing him to die by mechanical asphyxia, according to pathologists hired by his family.
Floyd was heard saying “I can’t breathe” multiple times. Chauvin has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Other NHL players speak out
Last week, Evander Kane of the Sharks appeared on ESPN’s First Take and called on his fellow NHLers to use their voices for change.
“We need so many more athletes that don’t look like me speaking out about this, having the same amount of outrage that I have inside, and using that to voice their opinions, voice their frustration. Because that’s the only way it’s going to change,” he said. “We’ve been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing’s changed. It’s time for guys like Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby, those type of figures, to speak up about what is right and, clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that is the only way we’re going to actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change.”
Kane’s teammate, Sharks captain Logan Couture, supported his call to action in a Twitter post:
“I don’t know how to properly write this message. First of all, I applaud Evander for speaking the truth. Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey, That’s a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. A times I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue. I’ve had the opportunity to play with some incredible teammates. Black, white, all colors. Getting to listen to them talk about things they have gone through in hockey/life is eye opening.
“As a society and as hockey players we are only scraping the surface in fixing what desperately needs fixing. Thanks to Akim [Aliu] and Evander for speaking so loudly about this issue. We all need to learn, we need to love each other regardless of skin color.”
Iowa Wild forward J.T. Brown, who raised his first in 2017 in response to the National Anthem protests, Tweeted:
What would you do to prevent your murder? To prevent the murder of your child, brother, sister, friend, community? We tried to peacefully kneel or raise a fist but that made us un-American, a distraction, a son of a bitch. Today I am a thug, but tomorrow will I be a hashtag?
— JT Brown (@JTBrown23) May 29, 2020
Days after Jets captain Blake Wheeler Tweeted “My hometown is burning. Businesses where I grew up are being boarded up. America is not OK,” he added to his social media comments with reporters.
“We have to be as involved in this as black athletes. It can’t just be their fight,” he said. “When Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee during the national anthem and trying to do it in a peaceful way in 2016 and trying to raise awareness of this in a peaceful manner, unfortunately there wasn’t more – and I want to be real clear, here. I look in the mirror about this before I look out at everyone else. I wish that I was more involved sooner than I was. I wish that it didn’t take me this long to get behind it in a meaningful way.
“But I guess what you can do is try to be better going forward. That’s kind of been my position on it. I want to be part of the change going forward. Whether that resonates with everyone, whether that spreads with everyone, is clearly, I’m only one person, but I do have a small platform to try to promote this and promote change.”
Blackhawks forward Zack Smith added his voice on Monday:
“As a privileged white man playing in the NHL (a predominately white league) I feel it’s as important now as ever to show support for the black community and encourage change. If you think the current way black people and other minorities are treated here today is ok…. you are a racist. If you don’t have an opinion or are ‘neutral’ on this subject then you are ignorant and very misinformed.
“I strongly disagree with rioting and looting of homes and small businesses but if you resent this movement because of the actions of a few vandals then you are missing the point entirely. As hockey players we sometimes come off as robots in our interviews and stay clear of opinions on most social issues and controversy.
“Personally I don’t like posting my opinions on social media these days for several reason(s). However with the amount of racist people (especially those in positions of power) being exposed during this movement I felt the need to show my support for the black community and the need for change. Please be safe and take care of each other out there.”
Smith’s former teammate in Ottawa, Mark Borowiecki, asked for supporters to make donations:
View this post on Instagram
— Tweets, quotes, insta stories are cool…but we need to act. We made a donation to @blklivesmatter and made a promise to each other and Miles to call out and actually confront and act against racist bullshit. We plan to do everything we can to be honest about our own privilege and prejudice moving forward. This isn’t about praise, just hoping we can be part of the solution in the hockey community and beyond. #blacklivesmatter
It’s been tough for me to find the words to say, so I haven’t,” Tweeted Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba on Tuesday. “I’ve been listening. Educating myself. Letting others educate me before I speak. I thought I understood, but I didn’t. As a privileged white male, it’s easy for me to live in this country. I’ve always heard about the pain and fear of others but I don’t know if I ever truly sat with it and tried to imagine. I know that I will never know what it’s like. And now I know that as important as it is to speak up, it’s equally important to listen. Talk with your friends about racism, Black and White. Start conversations, self-reflect, listen, and engage. Black lives matter.”
Miller reacts to Zoom call
Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, who was the subject of a racist Zoom attack last month, spoke out about that and the current unrest around the country:
“I’ve struggled for months to find the words to express my frustration and anger over the Zoom conference call incident when I was to be introduced after signing my NHL contract. It’s something that I won’t ever forget. But with COVID19 taking a stranglehold on the nation, it seemed like there were so many other priorities in the world, that it wasn’t my place to speak out about the incident. This pandemic isn’t discriminatory, it has been difficult for everyone and the priority was to keep everyone safe.
“Now, in the midst of the sense death of George Floyd, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the peaceful protests and violent riots have become the focus for all of us. I want to express my growing concern for the safety of our citizens of color, specifically in my home state (Minnesota), given recent events. I support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I struggle because I’ve never been fully accepted by either the black community or the white community. I struggle because for years I have been one of the only people of color on my hockey teams. I have been targeted because of my race when I was in youth hockey by some coaches, parents and players, but I refused to give up because of my love for the game.
“You can only imagine how it felt to have an organization like the New York Rangers draft me, the hockey player. For that one moment in time I didn’t have to be defined by the color of my skin but rather on my hockey skills, athletic ability and character. This is how it should be all the time. It’s time for action, time for change and once and for all, it’s time to let black people be judged based on who we are not what we look like.”
Nearly every NHL team has put out a statement of their own or highlighted statements of their players as of Tuesday afternoon.
For more on the George Floyd protests around the U.S., follow the NBC News live blog.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.