Matt Dumba stood at center ice before Game 1 of Blackhawks-Oilers and delivered a passionate speech about social justice and fighting racism that concluded with the following message:
“I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans. Because Black Lives Matter. Breonna Taylor’s life matters. Hockey is a great game. But it could be a whole lot greater. And it starts with all of us.”
Moments before, nerves were getting to him as he waited inside Edmonton’s Rogers Place.. This was a huge moment for him and the NHL. Luckily for the Wild defenseman, teammates Jonas Brodin and Alex Galchenyuk were there to calm him down.
“If you’ve got the nerves to handle this, nothing can stop you tomorrow or in this playoff run,” Galchenyuk told him.
The 26-year-old Dumba then took a breath and recited the speech he’d memorized and practiced all week. He then became the first NHL player to take a knee during the U.S. national anthem. Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban stood with him with a hand placed on each shoulder.
“All the strength that it took to do it, it came from all the people who have supported me along the way,” Dumba said Sunday morning ahead of Game 1 against the Canucks. “My family, got to thank them, and especially the members at the [Hockey Diversity Alliance]. Hearing those guys’ stories and everything we talk about has given me the courage to do the things that I’ve done.”
The only thing Dumba said he would change is he would kneel for the Canadian national anthem as well.
“To be honest, I kind of froze up,” said Dumba, who is on the executive committee of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. “I know why I knelt. It wasn’t a sign of disrespect by any means. It was to shed light on the people who have lived through the injustice and oppression, especially in my home state of Minnesota. That’s why I did it. I think my biggest regret is not doing it for the Canadian national anthem, as well, because there is a lot of light that needs to be shed on what is happening in Canada and the oppression First Nations people have felt for hundreds of years. I was disappointed looking back on it because, like I said, I knew the reasons why I knelt. Just in the moment it happened like that.”
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Going forward, Dumba said, he will raise his fist when both anthems are played. The decision was made after speaking with J.T. Brown, who raised his fist three years ago before a game while with the Lightning.
“If I’m not in the starting lineup, I might be on the bench and if I take a knee on the bench, they might not even be able to see me,” Dumba said.
I applaud this great start by Matt Dumba and the National Hockey League, moving forward teammates shouldn’t let teammates fight this battle alone! We always show up for each other on the ice, this shouldn’t be any different.
— JT Brown (@JTBrown23) August 1, 2020
I just want to say how incredibly proud I am of my brother @matt_dumba for his words and for the courage he showed today @TheOfficialHDA pic.twitter.com/nki4Cu98z6
— Wayne Simmonds (@Simmonds17) August 1, 2020
Incredibly proud of @matt_dumba with the courageous gesture and leadership. A powerful message for the hockey community. #HDA pic.twitter.com/Rzlz29lTNX
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) August 1, 2020
A message to the haters
There were plenty of positive and negative responses to Dumba’s speech and kneeling during the U.S. anthem. But those dismissing what he and the HDA are fighting for help him want to continue to deliver the message.
“Keep it coming,” said Dumba, the Wild’s 2020 King Clancy Trophy nominee. “It kind of sheds a light on them and the people that follow them. Their friends, their family, can see their beliefs and how they view the world and see the negative light that they’re trying to shed on this. For all the people who have the courage in their fingertips sitting behind a keyboard, I know half the stuff you wouldn’t say to my face if I was standing right in front of you.
“All that stuff is what it is. I’ve kind of been laughing at it because I know the people that mean the most to me, all those people have reached out to me and commended me for what I’ve done, and believe in me and support that.”
• Dumba on Hockey Diversity Alliance, getting advice from Kaepernick
• Wild, NHL donate $100,000 to Matt Dumba’s ‘Rebuild Minnesota’ initiative
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.