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NHL’s tone on racism shifts with Matt Dumba’s pre-game speech, Oilers-Blackhawks anthem

Earlier this week, the NHL was criticized in some quarters and celebrated in others for not holding protests during the National Anthem or tackling systematic racism in America head-on.

But the league’s approach changed on Saturday afternoon when Wild defender Matt Dumba delivered an exciting pregame speech about racism ahead of Oilers vs. Blackhawks and then knelt down to the national anthem. He was flanked by Chicago goalkeeper Malcolm Subban and Oilers defender Darnell Nurse.

Dumba attended the game as a senior member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. He is the first NHL player to kneel before the national anthem this year in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.

People in the United States have taken to the streets in recent months after the police-caused deaths of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis and black woman Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.

“I know firsthand as a minority who plays the great hockey game the inexplicable and difficult challenges that come with it,” said Dumba. “The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want children to feel safe, comfortable and free-spirited every time they enter an arena. Black life matters. Breonna Taylor’s life is important. Hockey is a great game, but it can be a whole game much bigger, and it starts with all of us. “

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Before the demonstration of Saturday’s pregame, the NHL had been relatively quiet about the US protest movement, despite other sports, including NASCAR, providing clear answers.

Hockey has long been a game with a small percentage of black players, and it has a reputation for not always welcoming minority athletes. Less than 5 percent of the competition is non-white.

Like NASCAR, the NHL shows signs of a changing guard, at least in terms of public dialogue. However, it is far behind other competitions in the field of diversity and will require continued critical attention to this topic to bring about meaningful change within its own ranks.

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