Wednesday August 26th 2020 was a day many should never forget.
In the midst of another act of social injustice and police brutality, this time on Wisconsin native Jacob Blake, another Black man was shot. The world watched and winced as horror as each of the seven gun shots went off leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down. And in contrast, a 17-year-old was able to cross state lines armed with an AR-15, walk right by police with said AR-15, and shoot at protesters — killing two of them.
That right there is one of countless examples of why there are protests. This is why professional sports leagues are using their platforms to send the message and fight against what is happening in society.
The NBA and WNBA have been at the forefront of these movements. They’ve been wearing shirts, using their media availability to spread important messages, kneeling during the anthem, walking off the court during the anthem, you name it, they’ve done it. But Wednesday saw something a lot more significant happen.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were meant to play Game 5 of their first-round series. The Magic walked off the court ahead of the game while the Bucks didn’t even leave the dressing room. They refused to play.
That was a catalyst. As time went more and more teams refused to play getting to the point where there was a meeting involving all players discussing the very real possibility of the NBA cancelling the rest of the season.
The WNBA cancelled games, but the Mystics were ready to wear shirts spelling out Jacob Blake’s name with images of seven gun shot wounds on the back as well as stopping their play every seven minutes as a sign of protest.
Mystics players. Seven shots in the back. All WNBA games are canceled tonight. pic.twitter.com/mxrdbZ3Phj— Matt Blitz (@WhyBlitz) August 26, 2020
Some teams in the MLB refused to play, MLS refused to play and even tennis took a stand after one its stars, Naomi Osaka, refused to play.
So I’m sitting at my desk watching all of this. Knowing that history is being made. Witnessing professional athletes taking their efforts to the next level frustrated with the fact that they’re being used as a distraction from what is going on in the world. At that moment, they refused to entertain those who didn’t want to do their part in in the fight.
JR Smith’s IG story 🗣 @TheRealJRSmith pic.twitter.com/WPDzcqiU84— Overtime (@overtime) August 26, 2020
The Bucks in particular were doing more than sitting.
Bucks players are in locker room attempting to reach the attorney general of Wisconsin, Josh Kaul, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Magic players are leaving the arena soon -- not accepting the Bucks‘ forfeit.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 26, 2020
It even extended beyond the actual players as we saw Kenny Smith of NBA on TNT literally walk off the set in solidarity with NBA players while NBA refs
Kenny ‘fricken’ Smith pic.twitter.com/QwL1OYdhAY— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 26, 2020
As more and more came out, I continued to ask myself, “What do you think the NHL is going to do?” And not even five minutes after, I got my answer.
In the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting, the NHL will hold a moment of reflection before tonight's Tampa/Boston game in Toronto and tonight's Colorado/Dallas game in Edmonton.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 26, 2020
That’s not even the worst part. The said, “moment of reflection” was a whole four seconds, and they didn’t even do it ahead of the Colorado-Dallas game. I guess it’s hard to commit to an idea that didn’t take much thought...
You may be wondering whether I was disappointed in the NHL, and I can tell you that I wasn’t. Disappointment implies expectations and my expectations for the NHL were minimal at best.
On August 26, 2020, games and matches in four leagues were boycotted or postponed.— ESPN (@espn) August 27, 2020
An unprecedented day in sports history.
There is a truth that I’m struggling with, and it’s something I don’t want to believe with every fibre of my being. It’s a truth I don’t want to accept because if I do, it’ll crush me and the thing that I’ve loved since I was 4-years-old. Back when I sat in front of the television screen and watched Steve Yzerman hoist the Stanley Cup after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers. I don’t want to believe that the NHL players don’t care.
The NHL was quick to leave it up to the players as to whether they protest or not. Coaches were quick to drop the, “If a player wanted to protest, I’d be fine with it and support them” line. But no one did. Nothing was done.
In fact, people around the NHL did more than the NHL itself.
Evander Kane and Matt Dumba spoke out about the NHL’s decision to continue playing games.
“NHL is always last to the party on these topics," @mnwild defenseman Matt Dumba tells Sportsnet 650, reacting to their pregame "moments of reflection" tonight.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 26, 2020
Preach @evanderkane_9 #BlacklivesStillMatter pic.twitter.com/fje9EIGAZV— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 26, 2020
Christine Simpson took another approach to her spot during the Lightning-Bruins game, which was boss-like to say the least.
"I think this conversation needs to continue and it's going to be on the players to force change here. This is supposed to be a movement, it's not a moment."@reporterchris joined @SNChrisSimpson to discuss what went into the decision not to postpone tonight's games: pic.twitter.com/J0dbQ4IVwp— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 27, 2020
And then there was Kelly Hrudey. When it comes to hockey analysis, there are some things that Hrudey says that I don’t agree with. But his stance on the NHL’s decision to continue on with games despite what’s happening in the world, moved me beyond belief.
Preach @KellyHrudey #BlacklivesStillMatter pic.twitter.com/tpd21Hpv3i— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 26, 2020
There is one thing he said in particular that stood out:
I really feel that we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter. I know for myself, instead of watching hockey, I’d prefer to be having this conversation with my family...
Just think about that for a second.
Families all over the world probably had to have a moment with their young ones and explain what was going on. They would need to tell their little NBA and WNBA fans why there weren’t any basketball games going on, they would need to tell their little MLS fans why there weren’t any soccer games going, they would need to tell their little MLB fans why some teams aren’t playing and that it had nothing to do with COVID-19.
They would need to be told in some extent why this was happening, what they were fighting for. Some would take it in and reflect on it, and others may not care, because they could turn on the TV and know that at least they still had hockey.
That is what hurts most of all...
So what do I think the NHL should do? I don’t know. And at this point, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir, Don Fehr spoke yesterday and it’s expected there will be a number of discussions between the NHL/NHLPA and players today. Unlikely the NHL changes it’s position unless driven by players.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) August 27, 2020
All I wanted was for the NHL and its players to finally put some action behind their words. I wanted those to matter. I wanted seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs wearing BLM shirts to matter. I wanted seeing Tyler Seguin, Robin Lehner, Jason Dickinson and Ryan Reaves kneeling during the anthem to matter.
I wanted the NHL to tell me that my life mattered.
So this is where we’re at. The league is saying it’s in the hands of players, while the players are saying there are “other ways to show support.”
Here's @DallasStars forward Jason Dickinson, who took a knee during the anthems in the round-robin, on the NHL players' decision not to join NBA and MLB in protests tonight. Speaking from the heart. pic.twitter.com/VpKcheHFDb— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 27, 2020
If there are other ways to show your actions and support, then prove it. Prove that you actually care. Prove that all these statements aren’t just empty words. I don’t want it to only be the minority players who act. I want all players to unite on this.
I want to believe you NHL, I really do. Unfortunately at this point, I’m not sure I can anymore.
That being said, I’ve never wanted to be proven wrong so badly in my life. I want a day where I can tell the NHL I’m proud of being a fan.
SO proud of the NBA players. pic.twitter.com/k62nNzBOUO— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) August 26, 2020
When will that day come? Who knows. But we need the silence from the NHL to stop because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, there comes a time when silence is betrayal.