Jarome Iginla on his journey, George Floyd and the need for change

Jarome-Iginla-on-Calgary-Flames-bench-2013

Jarome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames watches the game on the bench in between shifts against the Edmonton Oilers. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the hockey world, and seemingly the world at large, move through a period of reflection in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Jarome Iginla says he hopes this new sense of awareness brings about real change.

Speaking to Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on the 31 Thoughts Podcast, Iginla — one of the most prominent Black players to ever take the ice in the NHL — shared his thoughts on Floyd’s death and the wave of protests that have arisen as a result.

“It was very, very hard to watch videos over the last couple weeks — Ahmaud Arbery jogging and getting attacked. Horrible. And then George Floyd … I got choked up watching it,” Iginla said. “I’ve seen it more than once, you know what I mean. It’s everywhere, as it should be, as horrible as it is in people’s minds. It’s got to stop.

“The protests that are going on are very powerful and they’re very important. I believe in them and what they’re about, having change, and I do hope they continue. I do. I really think that they’re powerful and people are hearing the message.”

With players from around the league posting messages condemning the killing of Floyd and lending their support to the Black Lives Matter movement, after players like Akim Aliu and Evander Kane called on white NHLers to use their platform to bring about change, Iginla said he sees similar importance in the diversity of the protesters taking to the streets to support this cause.

“When you watch on TV in Boston, where we’ve been, I like to see that it’s not just Black people out protesting together. It’s white people, Black people, all races, sharing the message and saying they want change,” he said. “It’s different ages, it’s very diverse, and I think that is very important.”

The former Calgary Flames captain — who claimed the Art Ross Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award and King Clancy Memorial Trophy during his 20-year NHL career — detailed the conversations he’s had with his own children about these recent incidents of racial injustice, as well.

“It is very hard to have those conversations with the kids — they know what’s going on,” he said. “Our daughter is turning 16 and our boys are turning 14 and 12 and you don’t want them to see the videos, you don’t want them to see that. But at the same time, they have to know what an important time this is and how things need to change.”

Reflecting on his own time in the game, Iginla said he’s lucky to have not dealt with many of the difficulties other young Black hockey players are forced to endure. But his path to the NHL certainly wasn’t without incident.

“It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to articulate, I’m sorry. It is. I knew I was the only Black kid playing hockey and kids would say to me, ‘Okay, well, what are your chances of playing in the NHL? There’s no other Black players,’” Iginla recalls. “And for me, it was always very important for me following my dream, and very special, to be able to look and say, ‘Well there’s Grant Fuhr, there’s Tony McKegney, there’s Claude Vilgrain. And that was what I was dealing with, and it was always powerful.

“Yes, there were some incidents where something was going on in the stands … later after the game, you’d hear somebody said something inappropriate and ignorant, and one of my teammates’ dads went over and talked to him. You know, those meant a lot for me, to have that support from my teammates and other families. It meant a ton — it wouldn’t have been the same if it’s my grandpa having to go over and talk to them.”

Much like those who urged white NHLers to speak up and lend their support to the fight against racism in hockey, Iginla said everyone in the sport has a role in fighting discrimination in the game, whether it’s on the ice or in the stands.

“Any racism towards anybody, it’s not acceptable. And if it’s parents, and you have the opportunity to [intervene] peacefully for another family, it makes a big difference,” he said. “And it’ll help that kid, as I’m very thankful that those parents were there for me.”

While the hockey world has seen star players from across the sport lend their support to the movement against racial injustice, all while thousands march in Canada, the United States, and across the world, Iginla says he hopes this swell of support leads to meaningful, lasting change.

“I know that obviously there’s things that still go on that are completely wrong and I think this is a moment where we can hopefully make some real progress as a society, in everything we do — in sports and out of it, in education, in healthcare, in equality,” Iginla said. “So, I definitely believe in it.”

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