At its best, the NHL’s return offers a sympathetic echo of what normalcy feels like — different and fainter than the normalcy that used to exist, but present enough to be familiar.
Well-laid restart plans have grown into game-day schedules, promising day-long escapes to view the events that COVID-19 stole from North America in March and hasn’t yet returned. Training camp highlights now fill social media feeds. Reporters are attending those camps, documenting the minutiae of line combinations, notable absences and signings.
It would be easy, here and now as those glimmers of normalcy return, to grow complacent about the issues plaguing the world beyond ice rinks. To escape into the entertainment of sports and turn a blind eye to the work that still needs to be done.
Lasting change isn’t about what’s easy, though. And Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas knows the movement that has defined this moment in history can’t be neglected just because sports are moving closer to their returns.
“When the matter of systemic racism came to the forefront again in North America, this time — rather than a one moment, send out a tweet or send out a statement — this to me has been very different,” Dubas told Donnovan Bennett and Sid Seixeiro during a Tuesday appearance on Tim and Sid.
“It’s been an effort from our players to educate themselves and learn the recognition that, as white athletes and white members of management and executives in the NHL, we live a very privileged life.
“And even though we all at times have prided ourselves with being involved with different anti-racism or the Pride Parade or different things. You know, it’s not enough for us just to do those things once a year and think that that’s enough — that we’re doing our part to end the different injustices or prejudices that exist in our society.”
On the first day of summer training camp, the Maple Leafs’ efforts to continue the fight against anti-Black racism even as marches and protests fall from the headlines could not be missed.
They wore powder-blue masks on their faces, and identical black t-shirts emblazoned, in all caps, with BLACK LIVES MATTER.
When asked about using workout gear to make a statement, captain John Tavares called it a “player-driven” initiative supported by upper-management. Consider Dubas one of the supporters.
“Yesterday was one of my prouder moments in the time that I’ve worked in hockey or worked with people in general,” Dubas said. “Because it was a group of athletes who, unfortunately on our team, are all white standing and using their platform and their voice to continue the conversation that’s been going on for hundreds of years.”
That conversation reached greater volumes after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, killing him. Athletes across North America took part in marches and did their part to amplify the simple, essential message that Black lives matter.
“They wanted to do it,” Dubas said. “And I was extremely proud of our players for that yesterday, that they want to use their platform here as the Maple Leafs and as athletes in Toronto — one of the most diverse cities in the world — to do our part with anti-racism and any injustice that’s happening in society.”