You’ll Never Believe This, but the NHL Whiffed on Its Protests

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It was a well-intentioned tribute. It didn’t go great.
It was a well-intentioned tribute. It didn’t go great.
Photo: Pittsburgh Penguins/Twitter

It’s obviously awkward for the NHL and its players to find a way to join in on the Black Lives Matter movement and protests before and during their games. It’s an almost entirely white league, with a majority of players not even from this country — and even the ones who are come from a generally affluent background where these issues never touch them. It is a sport and culture rife with racism throughout every level on either side of the border, although that’s probably an even better reason for those players at the top to speak out and change that. The NHL could show that these issues, these protests, and the need to keep fighting applies to everyone.

This is also the NHL, a league that would struggle to manage a booze-up in a brewery.

So it isn’t much of a surprise that in its return to the ice, NHL players completely mangled whatever it was they were trying to say. Unless they were trying to say the exact opposite thing that every other athlete in the world has been saying. Which we can’t rule out, because this is hockey, after all.


Maybe Canadian players don’t feel it’s their place to kneel during the American anthem. More likely, hockey players are just petrified, or dismissive, of kneeling at all. While white athletes kneeling during the anthem can be construed as performative, and oftentimes is, it’s at least showing solidarity with the whole movement. It’s the absolute minimum, or so you would have thought.

The Flyers and Penguins gave us a bunch of white guys standing in a line.


The idea was to show “solidarity.” Solidarity for what, exactly?

Not that I would expect most in the NHL to define or even be able to spell optics, but a bunch of white guys standing in a line showing solidarity conveys … well, the wrong message. It’ll be the same when the Bruins lock arms before their preseason game tomorrow against the Blue Jackets. A bunch of white guys showing unity together. What does that make you think of? Could they not get a statue of Columbus to put behind them? Though this being hockey, you’d see this kind of formation in front of a statue of Bobby Hull, who is just barely a better person than Columbus and also should be tossed in the nearest high-banked river.


Unity, that’s the word the Bruins focused on, and the Flyers and Pens were trying to demonstrate. “Unity.” Unity isn’t really what the rest of us are after. It’s an ingredient to what we’re after. Unity in understanding and rebelling against the racism against Black people see from police and society in general. The goal isn’t to be together. Being together is one of the first steps on the path to real change.

This was a mere wave at joining all the other sports, with optics that make it look like the NHL is in direct opposition (and there are certainly NHL players who are, aren’t there, Tuukka Rask?) Clearly these players didn’t want to be seen completely ignoring the rest of the world, though that’s how the hockey world generally prefers it, and did the least amount it could think of. And probably made things worse. How very hockey.


There are more than a handful of NHL players who responded to the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and riots with surprising, heartfelt feelings, such as Tyler Seguin, Blake Wheeler, and Jonathan Toews. It’s a shame they couldn’t carry this kind of emotion to when they were actually on the stage. Yes, hockey fans are probably the most blind and vicious when it comes to the stuff. Which makes it more important that the players come up with something better than this, and show there will be no safe-haven for the “All Lives Matter” crowd in sports.

0-for-2 so far.