As the sports world ground to a halt yesterday amid a growing movement to protest racial injustice, the NHL did the most NHL thing ever and offered a tepid, half-ass response before the Bruins-Lightning game in Toronto on Wednesday night.
I realize at this point it’s shooting fish in a barrel to knock the NHL for its “Hockey is for Everyone!” campaign while those of us who love hockey, particularly women and people of color and the LGBTQ community, have had to endure countless embarrassments and insults this season from the NHL, its ownership group, players and hockey media.
The mostly ignored Akim Aliu story. Brendan Leipsic. Racists taking over a Rangers fans Zoom call. Jeremy Roenick. Mike Milbury. Nominating a dumb asshole who exposed himself to a female war veteran as the most gentlemanly player in the game. Awkward social media posts praising the one white guy who went to a Black Lives Matter protest instead of centering minority players pressing for change. Brett Hull showing the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
You can take this to the bank: Not a single player in the bubble in Toronto or Edmonton will sit out of a game to demand an end to racial injustice or say that there are things more important than hockey going on right now.
Really, no one can be blamed for staying silent. Hockey culture is entirely built around not making waves, not drawing attention to yourself, not complaining and not expressing individuality. This is a sport and culture that ridiculed one of its best players, Dougie Hamilton, for going to museums.
Some players might mouth the right words but secretly many probably agree with Logan Couture. Brad Marchand’s first instinct was to rip Boston Globe reporter Matt Porter who pointed out that Tuuka Rask was wearing a Boston Police hat. Marchand quickly deleted the tweet and said that his team all stands united against racism, but the fact of the matter is the NHL has been trying too hard to have it both ways, and really won’t make a stand because it doesn’t hurt their bottom line when the vast majority of its players and fans are white.
Marchand is famous for licking opponents’ faces, so it’s no surprise that deep down he doesn’t mind licking boots as well.
Evander Kane is admittedly not the most savory spokesperson for any movement, but he’s the only one with enough guts and job security to speak up about racial injustice in a way that would make the NHL and hockey world feel uncomfortable (and making the establishment feel uncomfortable is the POINT), and his team isn’t in the playoffs.
Kane did indeed call out the NHL.
“It’s great to write statements, it’s great to send tweets, it’s great to post stories and pictures on Instagram,” Kane said, “but at the end of the day it’s going to be about real action and meaningful change and unfortunately that still isn’t occurring, and we need to be better.”
Few players have the status and contract to be willing to go against the grain, even if they wanted to do so. It was super easy for teams to tweet a black box and issue awkward statements but that was months ago and when it came time to actually making a statement, well, put it this way, they were praised by Eric Trump. With the NHL, we’re still at the bUt KnEeLiNg Is DiSreSpEcTiNg ThE fLaG part of the conversation.
Then there’s always the ignorance defense, courtesy of Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.
Dan Carcillo who is on a mission to change hockey culture with his class action suit against Canadian junior hockey leagues, said it best:
When the NHL keeps trying to tell us that it’s not for everyone, maybe we should just believe them.