Joel Ward: Player-led postponement a good opportunity for hockey to step up

Former NHLer and member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance Joel Ward joins Hockey Central to discuss the need for conversation and allyship in the hockey world when it comes to fighting racism.

Thursday’s decision by NHL players to put games on hold was undoubtedly a significant moment for the sport.

“It was a big moment for hockey, a big moment for society,” retired NHLer Joel Ward told Hockey Central on Friday when asked about his peers’ announcement on Thursday to press pause on the playoffs and stand with the rest of the sporting world in solidarity against racial injustice.

As a founding member of the recently formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, Ward played a crucial role in the player-led postponement of Thursday’s and Friday’s games. Members of the HDA posted public calls to action directed at the NHL to join their pro sports peers across the NBA, WNBA, MLS, MLB, NFL and professional tennis to halt operations in a widespread demand for change.

“For us, obviously hockey’s a different demographic from other sports and we thought it was a good opportunity for hockey to really step up,” Ward said. “We wanted to show solidarity. This is an important issue going on in society. People are dying — Black and people of colour are dying on the regular. Everybody sees it, and nobody’s doing anything about it. Everybody’s just turning a blind eye on it.”

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The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks initiated this historic wave of action from around the sports world on Wednesday when they announced they would be sitting out their game against the Orlando Magic in a call for justice after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Ward said he and other members of the HDA, including Evander Kane, Akim Aliu, Mathew Dumba, Chris Stewart, and Wayne Simmonds had “good discussions” with players in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles as well as within the HDA about the key issues at hand leading up to the league’s announcement.

Ward said he’s proud of what the HDA has accomplished and of his NHL peers for “really understanding and just taking that moment to reflect.”

“I think as guys started chatting more and more and realized the importance of what is going on in today’s world, it just kind of unfolded, and sure enough, guys agreed to boycott the games and put it on pause for a minute, and you’ve seen what happened last night,” he said.

Of course, what happened on Thursday (and continues Friday) will be a mere moment, not a movement, if the conversations halt when the games pick up again on Saturday.

“This is just a small little moment here,” said Ward. “Obviously, you’re not going to make drastic changes in the 24 to 48 hours, but I think just having conversations with guys, just educating guys to let them know that this is very serious.”

The HDA, though not currently officially affiliated with the NHL, will continue to work with players to help educate them and move forward in their goal to eradicate racism in the game of hockey.

“We need allyship in the hockey community — our former players, current players, everybody in the hockey world to step up and say that, ‘Hey, NHL, this is a big issue,'” said Ward.

“Hopefully we can kind of solidify a solid partnership,” Ward said of working with the NHL. “We’re just trying to help our game grow, and that’s what we’re all about … We’re just here to make hockey a safe place for all of our kids growing up.”


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