Just over 2,000 miles northeast of San Jose, Calif., the home of Evander Kane‘s Sharks, the city of Minneapolis has been consumed by protests over the death of George Floyd.
The 46-year-old African-American man died Monday after being pinned to the ground beneath the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was today charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
In the wake of yet another abhorrent incident of racial injustice, Kane has joined those calling on more voices in prominent positions to speak out, to show their outrage, and to use their platforms to move us all towards meaningful change. That means prominent athletes in hockey and beyond, says Kane, but also all others who could make waves by simply acknowledging these issues.
“It would make a huge difference, first and foremost,” Kane told Stephen Brunt, Richard Deitsch and Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Writers Bloc Friday. “And I want to say that it’s just not athletes — it’s people with voices, people with big voices. Public figures. Whether you’re an athlete, a celebrity, somebody that works in politics, whatever it may be — it’s people at the top.
“…When you have ethnicities other than the ones that are being affected step up and say something, that causes a real dialogue. It can cause real change. And it can cause people to really open up their eyes and come together, and I think that’s the biggest thing. And we don’t have nearly enough of that, clearly.
“In particular to our sport, you know, there’s been a handful of guys that have spoke up and mentioned it and spoke out against what has just transpired, as an example, recently. But nowhere [near] enough. And nowhere [are] the voices that really could make a serious impact.”
Hockey has undergone a reckoning of sorts as of late, sparked by Akim Aliu speaking out about his experiences enduring racism throughout his tenure in the game. But the sport’s issues run far deeper than most acknowledge, says Kane, and stem from the fundamental culture that underlies it.
“I think it’s a culture thing, for sure. You’re talking about rocking the boat — we can’t even get enough people on the boat to start. So, it would be impossible to rock the boat,” Kane said. “The problem is that hockey culture and the way it’s ingrained, especially in terms of Canada and throughout minor hockey, is to put your head down, go to work, and shut your mouth. That’s essentially the message from when you step on the ice from five years or eight years old, whenever it may be. And it’s continuously pounded in to you, to conform to what everybody else is doing.
“And when you have certain players that don’t conform to what these old-school mindsets that are at the top are telling you to do, then you’re viewed as a bad apple or a problem or a bad guy. And that’s a major problem, and there’s been plenty of examples of that.”
It’s not simply that this culture can inform discriminatory treatment of players of colour, says Kane, but also that it can leave said players not wanting to speak out about the difficulties they’re forced to endure.
“When you’re coming into the league as a young player, and you see that, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I don’t want that to be me, I don’t want to be thought of as a bad guy, I don’t want to be thought of as the bad apple or the bad teammate or whatever it may be,’” Kane told Brunt, Deitsch and Blair. “And they just make a decision to conform, and it takes away from who they truly are.”
Whether meaningful change comes remains to be seen, but in Kane’s view, it only does through conscious action to make it so, starting at the community level.
“Is it going to change? I hope. I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change,” he said. “But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.
“And until things change at the top — whether that’s whoever heads up minor hockey in each province, whoever heads up junior hockey leagues and so on and so forth — until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”
Incidents like the one that took George Floyd’s life, the one that did the same to Ahmaud Arbery, the countless others in recent years that have laid bare the remaining wounds of systemic racism in North America, suggest there’s much work to be done in finding some sense of unity.
As to how that manifests in the sports world, in young athletes of colour being able to pursue their dreams with the same freedom as their non-racialized counterparts, Kane stresses it’s important to step back and see the wider pattern, and to understand its continued presence.
“I think really, in terms of hockey, what really brought to light racism is the Akim Aliu story. And that having an effect on someone who is current in our league, and hockey having no choice but to have that discussion, but to listen, but to have conversations about it. I just don’t want that to be something that is now considered dealt with and pushed aside and forgotten about,” Kane said.
“Because that’s just one story. That’s just one player. I spoke the other day to a kid from Carolina, about how he came up and played in the GTHL in Ontario, and how he played 40 games and he said 50 per cent of those games, which would be 20, he encountered some sort of racism on the ice.
“So it’s not just Akim 10 years ago. It’s not just Wayne Simmonds a few years ago. These things are happening currently, and they’re happening often. People just don’t want to look at it.”
Listen to the full interview with Evander Kane on Sportsnet 590’s Writers Bloc via the audio clip embedded in this post.