Hockey is back in Canada, as the NHL is officially set to kick off Saturday night in the newly minted hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. But fans are already calling out the league for its inaction on the Black Lives Matter and racial injustice during early exhibition games.
Like other major sports leagues, including MLB and the NBA, the NHL is returning to a vastly changed world when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
Players in other leagues have taken a knee during the national anthem or, in the case of the NBA, have worn slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “remember their names” on their game jerseys, Fans across Canada and the U.S., however, have noticed the lack of kneeling during the anthem during this week’s NHL exhibition game action.
And they were not happy.
Many shared images with a version of the caption “if the league won’t do it, I will.”
Many fans also specifically called out the league’s inaction on racial injustice in general.
On Wednesday, Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri said he wants to see more concrete action from the league on issues of racial injustice.
“We’re all trying to make it better. We’re trying to make the game more diverse and the diversity in the game doesn’t happen with racism still going on. So that’s an important thing for us to address,” he told TSN.
“As players we have addressed that. From a league standpoint, you know, I think we’d like to see a little bit more acknowledgement and having them address the situation and know that they stand with their players.”
The league announced the “#WeSkateFor” initiative, where players can choose a specific cause or person to “skate for.” But many say it’s far from enough.
Earlier this week, San Jose Sharks player Evander Kane called out the league explicitly for failing its Black players.
“The NHL can put ‘Black Lives Matter’ all over the rink, shout ‘Black Lives Matter’ from the mountains,” Kane told TSN. “No matter what they do or say, it’s all going to fall on deaf ears with me and every other person [...] because the league has made no effort to support its own Black players.”
It seems many fans saw the lack of kneeling during the anthem as another instance of that. The symbolic gesture first emerged with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. His choice to kneel during the national anthem became a movement among athletes, but also led to his eventual ostracization from the NFL.
“From a league standpoint, you know, I think we’d like to see a little bit more acknowledgement and having them address the situation and know that they stand with their players.”
Following NBA games this week, where all players and coaches kneeled together in solidarity, many players explicitly referenced Kaepernick and his movement.
“I hope we made Kaep proud,” L.A. Lakers player LeBron James said.
Not everyone was opposed to the choice to remain standing though.
The choice for NHL players to remain standing during the anthems was praised by U.S. president Donald Trump’s son Eric Trump, who Tweeted his thanks to the NHL.
Fans were quick to point out the sharp contrast between actions in the NBA and Trump’s support of the NHL.
The revised NHL season officially kicks off in Edmonton and Toronto Saturday night.