The big news in the sports world this week was the widespread postponement of games across North American sports leagues, including the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL. These postponements were the result of player-led protests in response to the violence in Wisconsin this week, following the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, and the death of two protestors at the hands of a teenaged vigilante. (Regardless of the details leading up to each shooting and the degree of culpability therein, each is a tragedy and neither situation should have escalated to that point).
The boycotts were started by the players of the Milwaukee Bucks prior to Wednesday’s scheduled game of their first round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. As Wisconsin’s team, the events obviously hit home (the Milwaukee Brewers were the first MLB team to join the boycott on Wednesday). The Bucks players released a very strong statement, going beyond vague cliches to include specific calls to action.
The NHL, sadly, was slower to act. A game between the Flyers and Islanders was already underway when the Bucks walked out, but games later that evening between the Lightning and Bruins and the Stars and Avalanche proceeded as scheduled. This article from Defending Big D from Wednesday night captures the events of the day and points out how the NHL’s response paled in comparison to the other leagues.
I will come to the NHL’s defense here for not immediately jumping on board on Wednesday. In each league, this has been a player-led initiative. For the NHL players, with their pre-game routines they were likely not as clued in to what was happening in other leagues. Many of the players are not American, so may not follow American news as closely. But that’s only a partial defense; it reveals that the lack of diversity in the sport prevents the predominantly white athletes from understanding the issues affecting other communities.
Fortunately, the response from the players on Thursday showed that the players are beginning to learn from these experiences. Players inside the bubble reached out to players of color like Vegas’s Ryan Reaves, and to leaders of the Hockey Diversity Alliance like Matt Dumba and Evander Kane. As a result, they decided to sit out as well, and the league postponed Thursday’s and Friday’s games. On Thursday, representatives from each team spoke up from within the bubble. While there are no players of color in the Eastern Conference bubble, there are three in the Western Conference: Reaves and Colorado’s Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. As those three stood at the dais, a large group of players from all four teams stood behind them in solidarity for a very powerful image.
"There needs to be change. Us being all together here, as one, definitely shows the strength in the hockey community" - Bo Horvat— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) August 28, 2020
"The conversation started with white players on other teams wanting to talk" - Ryan Reaves pic.twitter.com/dEKuLw9Fr0
As Rachel wrote about in June, the NHL needed to back words with actions, and this week showed that there is still a long way to go. It’s enough to just say “End Racism” as though that will get fans and participants in the league to say “welp, guess I’ll put off my plans to do a racism today.” It’s about educating people to break down their subconscious biases, and the institutional barriers which still exist and result in unfair treatment for white people and everyone else.
Sadly, the Columbus Blue Jackets join the St. Louis Blues as the only two NHL teams to not release a statement about this matter this week. Is it necessary for every sports team to speak out in reaction to every incident like this? I can accept the argument that it is not their job. However, when the vast majority of teams do, and when the league itself embraces the message, any team choosing to remain silent ends up taking a position by their inaction.
While it’s not the Blue Jackets’ job to be leaders, necessarily, it is still within their capacity to use their platform to promote improvement in the community. The Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation has done so much good for Central Ohio over the years, so there is precedent for the franchise making an impact off the ice. Furthermore, there is precedent among the other teams in the state. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, and Cleveland Indians announced an alliance to fight social injustice.
The alliance will also focus on improving the relationship between law enforcement and its citizens, encouraging nonpartisan voting activities and increasing the opportunities for quality education for everyone.
The key leaders from each team include Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman and Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff; Browns General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski; and Indians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti, General Manager Mike Chernoff and Manager Terry Francona. The group will also utilize their respective team platforms as individuals and collectively to coordinate activities that invoke a call to action and positive outcomes. Players from each team will also have an opportunity to get involved.
Even the Blue Jackets’ affiliate has gotten involved:
As part of the @cavs family, we join our neighbors in a call to action to address social injustice in the city of Cleveland & Northeast Ohio.— Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) August 27, 2020
We stand in support of all athletes and teams using their platforms to create change. #BeTheSolution https://t.co/bKCYPET91A
The Monsters share ownership with the Cavs, which makes their inclusion easier. But it also makes the Jackets’ own silence look even worse. They can start with small steps: offer Nationwide Arena as a polling location in November. Have American players like Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones record PSAs encouraging people to vote.
I know that when there is so much negativity in the news that we want to use sports as a form of escapism. But that doesn’t mean we can completely ignore what is happening in the world — and when these social issues exist in sports as well. Take this account from local product Spencer Watson:
Felt the need now more than ever, inspired by the NHL and my peers, to help those in the community understand my experience with racism in the game that i love. Any questions please reach out. Thank You, 6. pic.twitter.com/qoPaxfZ9bd— Spencer Watson (@spencerwatson96) August 29, 2020
The sooner we can take meaningful steps to eradicate these issues, the sooner we can get back to sticking to sports.
In the East, the Lightning can close out the Bruins in Game 5 tonight. The Islanders won twice over the weekend and can eliminate the Flyers on Tuesday.
Out West, the red-hot Stars continue to roll over the shorthanded Avalanche. That is another elimination game tonight. The Golden Knights had a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 in progress as of this writing.
This post can serve as an open thread for the other action this week.
This week on The Cannon
I broke down which players the Blue Jackets should not trade for any reason, and some others which should be available for a high price.
The Cannon Cast discussed the end of the Tampa series, and looked ahead to what moves could be made in the offseason.
Play me out
I made a very surprising and rewarding musical discovery this week, thanks to this video that a friend forwarded to me. In the mid-70s, a rock craze caught on in Zambia. These bands were inspired by late 60s English rock bands and incorporated elements of African music. The fad died out due to war and economic collapse, then most of the musicians died in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Much of the music disappeared for decades but has been rediscovered in recent years and uploaded to the Internet. I encourage you to look up “Zamrock” or any of these bands on your streaming service of choice. If you’re a classic rock fan, you won’t regret it.