EDMONTON — Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel for a national anthem during the league’s restart on Saturday.
The Regina native made a speech about social and racial justice prior to Edmonton’s first game of the NHL restart — the second overall — before he kneeled for "The Star Spangled Banner."
“During this pandemic something unexpected but long-overdue occurred: the world woke up to the existence of systematic racism and how deeply rooted it is within our society,” Dumba said. “For those unaffected by systematic racism, or unaware, I’m sure that some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple of months. But let me assure you, it has not. Racism is a man-made creation and all it does is deteriorate from our collective prosperity.”
“Racism is everywhere. Racism is everywhere, and we need to fight against it. On behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance, we vow and promise to stand up for justice and fight for what is right.
“I know firsthand, as a minority playing the great game of hockey, the unexplainable and difficult challenges that come with it,” Dumba continued. “The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time the enter an arena.
“So I stand in front of you today on behalf of those groups and promise you that … we will fight against injustice and fight for what is right. I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans because Black lives matter. Breonna Taylor’s life matters.
“Hockey is a great game. But it could be a whole lot greater and it starts with all of us.”
Players from the Oilers and Blackhawks stood around the centre-ice circle for both anthems prior to the Edmonton-Chicago game.
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse and Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban each put a hand on Dumba’s shoulder as he kneeled for a recording of the American anthem. All three players are Black.
Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Buble sang "O Canada" on a video recorded at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. Dumba stood for that anthem, played after "The Star Spangled Banner."
Dumba wore a "Hockey Diversity Alliance" shirt for the ceremony, which also paid tribute to front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A similar ceremony was planned for Saturday night’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins in Toronto. No players appeared to kneel during anthems prior the first two games in Toronto.
Social justice has been a theme in sports restarts.
Almost all NBA players have kneeled for the American anthem since the league resumed play Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
Major League Baseball also had players kneeling during its opening games last week, though it was not as big a percentage.