Sharks winger Joel Ward said that he may kneel in protest during the national anthem in a San Jose Mercury News interview focusing on his experience as one of hockey’s relatively few black players.
“I’ve experienced a lot of racism myself in hockey and on a day-to-day occurrence. I haven’t really sat down to think about it too much yet, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to it,” he told Paul Gackle of the Mercury News about whether he’d consider taking a knee for the anthem.
Ward is one of about 30 black players in the NHL. Several of the league’s players have spoken out in support of the anthem protests against racial injustice and police brutality that Colin Kaepernick started last year in the NFL—the Jets’ Blake Wheeler and Jacob Trouba, the Lightning’s J.T. Brown—but no hockey player has knelt during the anthem or announced his intent to do so.
“It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with,” Ward said of racism. “So when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis.”
Ward, who is from Canada and the son of immigrants from Barbados, wears no. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. If he makes the decision to become the first NHL player to kneel during the anthem, he has the support of head coach Pete DeBoer—who told the Mercury News, “I’m a big freedom of speech guy. Everyone has the right to message how they want to”—and general manager Doug Wilson.
“Doug’s been unbelievable,” Ward said of his conversations with the GM on the subject. “He agrees that it’s freedom of speech. Obviously, he’s aware of what’s going on. I’ve let him know how I feel about the whole issue and he’s been open to listening and offering support.”