To spend time at any Minnesota rink is to hear that hockey players are the most grounded and selfless of athletes, the ultimate teammates.
After watching the Wild last week, I don’t believe that anymore.
Defenseman Matt Dumba stood alone in an arena and before the sports world, asking for equality and awareness, raising a fist to protest racism. His teammates left him hanging.
No teammate stood by his side and raised a fist. No teammate took a knee alongside him. Teammates have spoken in support of Dumba or touched his shoulder during the national anthems, but none has offered the most simple, obvious gestures in support of Dumba.
They left him hanging when it mattered most.
When it comes to racism, the NHL and most of its overwhelmingly white players appear to be playing coy, trying to avoid overt statements that might anger an overwhelmingly white fan base that might be uncomfortable with activism.
I know one Wild fan of color. His name is Elan Lozano. He is a season-ticket holder who owns 19 hockey jerseys and would love to work in the sport. He watched Dumba’s protest and wondered about the state of hockey.
“It’s disheartening,” Lozano said. “I’m disappointed. But I don’t think I can say I’m surprised.
“I think the NHL wants to cover their butts on this. They’re trying to do just enough to avoid scrutiny. They want to do the bare minimum, but it’s 2020. That’s not enough, not anymore.”
Most major sports leagues other than the NHL have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. Players and coaches in the WNBA, NBA, MLB and MLS have been overt in their activism, and not just Black members of the sports establishment.
An incomplete list of local, white sports figures who have worn shirts or held signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” or who have taken a knee during the anthem, includes Lynx boss Cheryl Reeve; Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders; Twins boss Derek Falvey, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and Twins players Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey; Loons coach Adrian Heath and his players.
Nationally, NBA coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have continued to lead social justice conversations.
The NHL has settled for dabbling with hashtags, featuring slogans like #WeSkateFor or #EndRacism, while avoiding using the exact phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
End racism? A lovely sentiment, just like “Ride unicorns to work to save gas.”
Racism isn’t going to magically end. That’s why athletes like Dumba are protesting for equality and justice.
“I would like to see the NHL take a stand and really make a difference in the world,” Lozano said. “Even from a business perspective, it would be a really smart move to include more people, including people of color. You talk about wanting to grow your sport. Why wouldn’t you want to make everyone feel welcome?”
Lozano, who is Mexican American, hasn’t always. When he sits in his seat at Xcel Energy Center, or visits local establishments before games, he sees few faces of color. “I saw ‘The Mighty Ducks’ when I was 6 or 7, and that was it for me,” he said. “I was a hockey fan. And you know what? The X is usually a warm, great place to be.
“But I’ve had my moments where you feel like someone is talking about you because of the color of my skin.”
Lozano consumes a massive amount of media about the Wild and chats with other fans on social media. He has noticed a difference between the weak stance of the league, the team and Wild players, and the fans he knows. The majority of them, he said, are “extremely disappointed that nobody has had Dumba’s back.”
Lozano wishes he could have played hockey. He wants to see more people of color in the league, and the stands. He lives near Xcel Energy Center and would like to see the Wild do more community outreach in his neighborhood,
For now, he would settle for a hockey player or two with the guts and decency to protest alongside Dumba.
“I am waiting to see change,” Lozano said. “It just has to happen.”