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  • Harrison Brooks

NHL Drops The Ball On Social Issues Again

On August 26th, 2020, history was made as all of the playoff matchups in the NBA, four MLB games, five MLS games, and three WNBA games were postponed due to a player boycott in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Even Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka joined in on the boycott by refusing to play her match and leaving the ATP tournament in New York.

All this action and the NHL was nowhere to be seen. Wait, I guess that’s not true, they did support the decisions of the other leagues by holding a “moment of reflection” before the Bruins-Lightning game:

Way to show your support.

During one of the most historic nights in sports history, where hundreds of athletes collectively decided what they’ve been working towards their whole lives, wasn’t as important as the change they could help make in the world, the NHL and its players failed to show up.

They are a league that caters to the rich, the white, and the privileged. They always have and, unfortunately, due to the reluctance to instill any kind of meaningful change, I believe they always will.

The toxic bro culture of hockey extends much further than seeing a couple of guys acting like douchebags at the bar occasionally. It molds people into a cookie-cutter version of who they could have been. Right from an early age, hockey sends a message to players to never go outside your comfort zone, because that is when you get made fun of or ostracized. It creates kids that go out of their way to bully other kids for being different because they are scared of being made fun of for their differences.

When you actually take a moment to look around, this becomes painfully obvious. Just look at P.K. Subban. Norris winning defenseman, who has been traded twice now because his “personality” no longer fits with his team. Subban, who pledged to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital - and plans on keeping that promise even though he no longer lives in Montreal - has done more charity work than most other players in the league but his “personality” is still an “issue” in the locker room.

And he’s not the only one. Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Ho-Sang, Ryan Reaves, and countless others have all had their character questioned at some point in their careers because they don’t fit the mold of what the NHL and its fans think hockey players should look and act like, once again proving that there is no room in hockey for people who are different.

That’s why when stars of other leagues are making use of their platform to show support and inform others on the issues and calling on action, stars in the NHL keep spouting the same line of “just watching, listening and learning.”

There comes a time when “watching, listening, and learning” is no longer enough, and action is required. There comes a time when NHL players, who have never had to stand up for anything in their lives outside their teammates on the ice, need to stand up for others, and that time is now.

Kudos to the ones who have. Ryan Reaves, Matt Dumba, Robin Lehner, Tyler Seguin, Jason Dickinson, and even Sportsnet’s Kelly Hrudey who, on live air, said, “it’s disappointing that we are talking about hockey tonight,” in response to the boycott’s in the NBA and MLB.

But it’s still not enough.

After the boycott, the NBA and its players held a meeting to vote on whether the season should continue. While most voted to continue, the two L.A. teams voted to end the season. Two contenders and some of the league's top players like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis decided that raising awareness and showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement is more important than basketball or their personal successes and legacies.

That’s true leadership, right there. And it’s something the NHL needs more of. Enough of the quiet, cookie-cutter, personality-blackhole captain that doesn’t know or care about anything going on outside of the NHL that we’ve become accustomed to. It’s time for the NHL - and hockey in general - to stop viewing players who speak their minds as a problem because, in reality, hockey culture is the problem.

The world is changing, NHL. And if you don’t change too, you are going to be left on the wrong side of history.

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