On Saturday, August 1, 2020, the National Hockey League resumed play for the first time since March 12, 2020. The season was paused due to the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) spread and a concern for the players contacting the virus and spreading it through the League. Fans and players sat and waited for the hockey season to resume, which took more than 140 days.
Plans to resume play were drafted and finalized, training camps started, hub cities were announced, and the playoff format was completely changed from what fans know and love about playoff hockey. Usually, 16 teams go into playoffs and one comes out the Stanley Cup Champion, but this season is different.
This season, 24 teams go into one of two hub cities, Toronto or Edmonton, which are split by conference. The top four teams of each conference will play in a round-robin to determine first-round seeding while the other eight teams in the conference (16 teams in total) play in a "best of five" game series to see who will then move on to the first round of the playoffs. Each team gets to play an exhibition game, which occurred the Wednesday and Thursday before the season resumed. They were given the Friday off before the qualifying round and round robin games would begin.
Hockey fans were ecstatic for the season to resume, especially after such a long wait without any sports of any kind, but while the National Hockey League planned to restart the season and get a champion for the 2019–20 season, something bigger than hockey happened: the killing of George Floyd.
The killing of George Floyd was a tipping point for the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM). The outrage of Floyd's death spread like wildfire across not just the United States but the world, too. People in more than 2,000 U.S. cities and 60 countries joined in protesting, demanding justice for Floyd and the end of racial injustice and police brutality. The protest lasted weeks and the Black Lives Matter movement only grew stronger.
Fast forward to July 31, 2020, when the NHL released an essay written by Minnesota Wild player J.T. Brown and his 2017 protest against police brutality and racism during a game when he was playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The article was shared across social media platforms, but it was not talked about on broadcasts as the season came back.
On Saturday, August 1, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba came out before the playing of the national anthem at the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers and spoke out about the fight for equality, and on behalf of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization that was formed by several former and current NHL players in June of 2020.
Dumba made a speech about racial injustice and the fight for equality before the game on Saturday.
"For those unaffected by systemic racism, or unaware, I'm sure that some of you believe this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple of months. But let me assure you, it has not," Dumba stated during his pregame message. "Racism is everywhere - and we need to fight against it." Dumba's speech was heartfelt and impactful, he mentions how he knows first hand "the unexplainable and difficult challenges" that come with being a minority in the world of hockey. He ends his speech with the statement, "Black Lives Matter. Breonna Taylor's life matters," Dumba continues. "Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater and it starts with all of us."
After the speech, the national anthems of both the United States and Canada were played and Dumba became the first player in NHL history to kneel for the U.S. National Anthem. The players stood in a circle as the anthem played while Chicago Blackhawk player, Malcolm Subban, and Edmonton Oiler, Darnell Nurse, stood beside Dumba with their hand on his shoulder. Dumba then stood for the Canadian National Anthem and then exited the ice.
That's when the backlash started.
Fans of the NHL took to social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to speak out about Dumba's actions. Fans calling out the NHL for becoming too political and that Dumba kneeling for one national anthem was disrespectful. Many fans said that they will no longer be watching hockey because they're trying to become too political when in reality the NHL is speaking out on a real issue that is so much more than politics.
It's a matter of human rights and the injustice against African Americans that has gone on for too long.
Dumba didn't stop after Saturday's speech at the Blackhawks versus Edmonton game. His team, the Minnesota Wild, were scheduled to play against the Vancouver Canucks, and he decided to continue to use his platform to speak out on the same issue he did on Saturday.
Matt Dumba. For both American and Canadian anthems. He is doing this alone. https://t.co/77iw4q6lKJ— Hailey Salvian (@Hailey Salvian) 1596422373.0
Dumba raised a fist during both national anthems prior to the game against the Canucks.
He stood during both national anthems, fist raised, nervous and teary-eyed.
None of his teammates or fellow players in the League raised their fists in solidarity or support of the movement.
Dumba is the only player currently using his voice to fight for something that is so prevalent in our society.
The Wild went on to shut out the Canucks 3-0 during their game, but while they played, hockey fans went back to social media and the backlash continued about Dumba and his actions. While many fans took to Twitter under this tweet above, saying that he shouldn't be alone in this fight and that his teammates should be supporting him, others took to Facebook and Instagram, commenting on an image of Dumba with his fist raised prior to Sunday's game.
Fans unleashed more hateful comments about how Dumba is looking for attention and that the NHL has once again become too political. Fans were angered that Dumba decided to raise a fist during BOTH anthems, some even going as far as saying it was disrespectful and that the NHL is going to lose ratings and viewership because of this action and their prior posts about the fight to end racism.
Other fans praised Dumba for using his platform and speaking out against the issue of injustice and racism. Some said that if it bothers you, simply change the channel, because this is more than personal feelings — this is basic human rights that are being expressed and fought for. This is so much more than a matter of politics and attention.
.@mathjoseph7 rocking the new #WeSkateFor hoodie in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Each hoodie includes a customiza… https://t.co/coYujQZvmD— Tampa Bay Lightning (@Tampa Bay Lightning) 1596312789.0
The NHL uses the phrase "Hockey is for Everyone."
It's used during Pride events and is prevalent to the situation of ending systemic racism. Teams have been wearing sweatshirts and shirts that say #WeSkateForEQUALITY during training for the qualifying round of games that are currently being played, often being photographed and posted to the team's social media accounts and are available on the NHL's merchandise site. Other teams are seen wearing shirts dawning the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism statements.
Black lives matter. #WeSkateFor #BlackLivesMatter #Preds https://t.co/ori1NzAoNt— Nashville Predators (@Nashville Predators) 1596389188.0
If the NHL is saying that hockey is for everyone and that they're skating for equality, then why is Dumba the only player standing alone and speaking out during the current playoff format?
Dumba shouldn't be alone in the fight for equality, his teammates should stand beside him in the fight, in solidarity. Other players in the league should use their voice and their platform that they have to help end the racial injustice and racism.
On Monday, August 3, 2020 four more players joined Dumba and his stand against social and racial injustice.
During both anthems, for the Dallas Stars and Las Vegas Golden Knights game, Dallas Stars players, Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson, and Vegas Golden Knights players, Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner, kneeled on the ice in solidarity with Dumba and what he is fighting for. The players' teammates, however, did not join them, but it's a start. Matt Dumba is no longer alone in the fight.
Players may be scared to speak out on everything, afraid of the backlash and the threats that could be thrown at them and their families, but this is a fight for basic human rights that shouldn't be fought alone.
Matt Dumba is right in every sense of standing up and using his platform to speak out on the racial injustice that is in our world. He's right for saying, "Racism is everywhere — and we need to fight against it." This is no longer a disagreement of personal feelings and politics; this is a fight for everyone to be equal, once and for all. Matt Dumba is just the first to stand in the fight during this playoff season and post-pause lifestyle.
Hopefully, more players will come and stand with him as the playoffs progress. Then hockey truly can be "for everyone."