A day after Matt Dumba raised his fist during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, multiple players from the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars took a knee during the “Star Spangled Banner” and “O Canada” before their Stanley Cup round robin game Monday.
As the familiar chords bounded off the walls of Rogers Place, Tyler Seguin, Jason Dickinson, Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner kneeled, united in visibly supporting the simple, essential message that Black lives matter.
“In no way am I trying to disrespect the flag or people who fought for this country,” Reaves said after the game. “I have the utmost respect for everyone who’s gone over and fought and died for the freedom of this country. …that’s not the message I’m trying to send. But at the same time, those people go across seas and they go to war — and families are torn apart in these wars for the freedom of this country — only to come back and find out this country isn’t free for everybody.
“And I think that’s where I’m coming from. Not everybody is truly free in this country, and I think that’s starting to come to light a lot more.”
Dumba’s advocacy for racial justice has been at the forefront of hockey’s return from its pandemic-induced pause. On Saturday, he delivered a speech that was inspiring in its execution and heart-wrenching in its necessity — equal parts a condemnation of the systemic racism which plagues society and a call to action for the hockey community and the world at large to do the work of building a better, more just future.
“…I know firsthand, as a minority playing the great game of hockey, the unexplainable and difficult challenges that come with it. 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.”
When his words ended, his actions spoke, as he became the first player to kneel during the national anthem. Despite words of support from his fellow players, he undertook both that act and the raising of his fist alone. On Monday, that changed.
“I don’t know if it was a deciding factor,” Reaves said when asked about the impact Dumba’s speech had on their own decision to kneel. “We want to be united for the cause and when you see one of your brothers do that, you want to support that cause if your mission is aligned.”
Seguin offered a slightly different perspective, saying that Dumba’s teammates not joining him had some influence on his decision to kneel.
“Yeah, there was some influence with that,” Seguin said. “Nothing against his teammates or anything like that. Everyone’s got their own choices. I don’t think that means anyone doesn’t support him. But definitely being two white guys, to do what we did, I wanted to be a part of that movement if there was an opportunity.”
Seguin has been candid in discussing his awakening to the racial injustices that still exist in society. In June, he attended his first peace protest at Dallas City Hall, moved by the death of George Floyd to understand the pain so many have experienced for so long. Back then, he realized the importance of his voice and that words must be followed by action, and over the last 24 hours he considered again what that action might look like in practice.
So when Reaves approached him during warmups to say that he and Lehner planned on kneeling, he immediately said yes and told his Stars teammates of his intentions. Dickinson was eager to join. Moments later, they along with Reaves and Lehner became the first four NHL players to kneel before a game they played in.
“Black Lives Matter, equality, justice,” Dickinson said. “You can pick the term, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need to sit here and take a stab at all the issues. Just educate yourself, look into things, watch documentaries, talk to people.
“Just learn, try to open your mind a little bit and [see] this is a big issue that needs to be addressed.”