THE NHL, as even the most casual observer can tell, is overwhelmingly white and dominated by Canadian and European players (the NHL is only slightly more than 26 percent American).1 However, not even the NHL could escape the effect of the Bucks’ boycott. On August 26, the NHL went ahead with its three scheduled games. The Boston Bruins game against the Tampa Bay Lightning paused for a “moment of reflection,” but that was all. The NHL found itself roundly criticized by athletes in other sports, as Major League Soccer, in addition to MLB and the NBA, called off its games.
Even within the NHL fraternity, there was unhappiness. A former NHL goaltender who played for the New York Islanders, the Los Angeles Kings, and the San Jose Sharks, Kelly Hrudey, offered a thoughtful a critique of the NHL’s inaction on August 26. Or, rather, its action—that is, its decision to keep playing while the other leagues did not. Currently broadcasting for the Calgary Flames and working as an analyst for that venerable institution, “Hockey Night in Canada,” Hrudey was unambiguous:
“I don’t think we should be here. I think the NHL should postpone the games,” Hrudey said on a TV hit on NHL Canadian rights-holder Sportsnet before puck drop at Scotiabank Arena. “I really feel we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter.
“I know for myself, instead of watching hockey, I’d prefer to be having this conversation with my family.”2
The next day, Hrudey got his wish. The NHL, following the NBA and the WNBA, postponed their games for August 27th and 28th. This decision came on the heels of the NHL finding itself under attack from within. Because the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) openly questioned the NHL’s decision to proceed with games on August 26, the HDA, founded to increase racial diversity in the NHL, expressed their displeasure with the NHL’s inaction. Two black Canadian players, Evander Kane (a winger on the Sharks) and Matt Dumba (a defense man for the Minnesota Wild), were at the forefront of the efforts to make change tack.
On August 27, photographs taken from within the NHL bubble emerged. All the teams publicly expressed their support for social justice. A veritable United Nations of Western players joined forces, with Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and even tiny Slovenia (with a single player) metonymically represented. One suspects that until the game gains a foothold in minority communities in North America and Europe (where, simply because of the size of the population and the relatively small landmass compared to the United States, the rise of minority representation might be more likely and happen more quickly), the NHL will have a tough row to hoe. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that the fight for social justice will remain the primary responsibility of black Canadians, the odd American or black European player, and the politically progressive white player—regardless of national origin.
At the very least, however, what social pressure and the HDA were able to achieve in the wake of the Bucks’ actions demonstrates that, its demographics notwithstanding, the NHL is not immune to the racial politics that obtain in North America.
Indeed, no sport is. Even NASCAR is subject to the forces calling for social justice, as we have seen.
Sometimes, it takes a team. Or, at least, it takes an individual to lead her or his team. Sometimes, everything is epic. It depends upon the singular athlete.