History remembers its trailblazers. Matthew Dumba cemented his place as one of them when he took a knee during the U.S. national anthem this weekend, peacefully protesting racial inequality, and again when he raised his fist — echoing the message with a different delivery.
Both times, he acted alone. No teammates joined him, nor did any players wearing a different jersey. His head coach, Dean Evason, said the team had not even had discussions about whether they’d join him in raising a fist.
But on Monday, four players on two other teams ensured he was no longer alone. As “O Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner” echoed clearly in an empty Rogers Place arena, Ryan Reaves, Tyler Seguin, Robin Lehner and Jason Dickinson kneeled, sending an even clearer message: 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.”
The decision to kneel did not come about after extensive planning. Some time before the game, Lehner told Reaves that he wanted to take a knee and during warmups, as the clock ticked closer to when the anthems would begin, Reaves skated over to Seguin and told him what they intended to do.
“He said he’s been kind of seeing what I was doing in Dallas and said that him and Lehner were going to kneel and [asked] if I’d like to join them,” Seguin told reporters after the game. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I joined them.”
Seguin attended his first peace protest at Dallas City Hall in June as America reckoned with its deep-rooted racial inequality and police brutality, spurred by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers.
At the time, Seguin voiced the need for himself to “take the next step” in being an ally in the fight against injustice. But that next step, in his mind, was always focused more on what he could do in the community as opposed to dropping down on one knee.
“The anthem thing crossed my mind a little bit,” Seguin said. “But it was really when Reaves came up, that was an easy decision for me. I’ve said from day one I support what’s going on. And if he said he was kneeling, I was gonna join.”
After he told Reaves he would join him and Lehner in kneeling, Seguin shared his choice with his Stars teammates in the dressing room — ensuring they were aware, but did not feel pressured to join him if they didn’t want to.
Dickinson immediately grabbed his arm and said he wanted to be a part of it.
“I got some people of colour [in] my family,” Dickinson said after the game. “My dad comes from the Islands and one of my uncles is Black. So it was an easy decision.
“I’ve been thinking about it since everything started and if I would do that, and I was probably nervous to think about doing it on my own. And when [Seguin] said it, it was kind of a no-brainer for me that I wouldn’t be alone doing it. To support the cause and support my teammates is a no-brainer.”
It’s the task of each new wave of change-makers to nudge the world a little further than the last. Dumba, with all the unique courage that’s interwoven into being the first to do something, pushed the NHL forward after it lagged behind other North American sports in its advocacy efforts.
While that courage was inspiring for Reaves, Seguin, Lehner and Dickinson as they took up the mantle of pushing, too, it was not the sole factor in their decisions.
“I don’t know if [Dumba kneeling] was a deciding factor,” Reaves said. “I think we were still gonna come together and talk about it. But I think [Dumba] leading the way there, you don’t want to leave him out to dry. I think that’s the whole point of this, we want to be united for the cause and when you see one of your brothers do that, you want to support him, support the cause he’s fighting for if your mission’s aligned.”
So out they skated, from the dressing rooms to the blue lines, four players from two different teams united in the message they sought to deliver, the same message Dumba presented to the world days ago.
Four is a far less lonely number than one, but the ratio still stands out. The answer to whether or not that was disappointing came swiftly.
“Absolutely not,” Lehner said. “I respect everyone’s opinion — that’s a problem in society these days, you got to hate the other person because they’ve got a different opinion from you, that’s what the problem is in this world. At the end of the day, everyone’s free to do whatever they choose, I respect everyone whatever they wanna do as long as it’s within the law.”
That Lehner not only kneeled but played a meaningful part in orchestrating the four-man display is no small thing.
In 2016, after Donald Trump won the United States presidential election, Lehner wore a mask featuring the president-elect.
“I made a mistake once,” Lehner said. “I put a Trump sticker on my mask — something I regret now after seeing how divisive things have been. At the end of the day, this is not politics. It’s human rights. It’s not about politics.”
A lot can change in three-and-a-half years. Since he donned that mask, Lehner has acknowledged that he no longer supports Trump. On Monday, he turned that statement into action.
“I’ve been part of conversations — everyone’s talking about conversations — and education, and listening, but it’s time to start doing something and not just let this be a news cycle and forget about it and do it all over again. Everyone should have the same chance in society, everyone should be treated the same.
“…I love America. But there’s a bunch of things that need to be corrected and I think they have the power to do so, it’s just about willingness to do something about it.”