The NHL’s Response to Protests Across Sports


This week has been, to say the least, historic in the world of sports. The Milwaukee Bucks started a string of protests and boycotts across the NBA and sports after the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They decided not to play game 5 against Orlando at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26, right in the middle of game 2 of the Islanders-Flyers series in the NHL bubble in Toronto. The sports world quickly turned a blind eye to the ongoing action in every sport to hear the outpouring of support from current and former players, coaches, executives and fans across all sports. While all of the attention was turned towards the NBA and their discussions on whether or not to continue the season, and rightfully so, the NHL botched an opportunity to be on the right side of history.

The Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped the puck at 7:10 for game 3 of their series amidst many people saying they should just call it a night and postpone the games just like the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS did for certain games. But instead they played. The Bruins won that game, and then Dallas and Colorado played, ending the triple header of playoff hockey that just should not have happened. The next afternoon, the NHL came to the decision to postpone two days’ worth of games, Thursday and Friday, in solidarity with the NBA players. While at the end of the day the NHL did the right thing, it was too little too late.

There are many important things happening in hockey circles to promote social justice and combat racism in America, led by the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA). The HDA has put together a pledge that they have asked the NHL to sign, outlining many promises they ask them to keep, such as a zero-tolerance policy on racist actions, not accepting sponsorships from any companies with racist backgrounds and help funding initiatives the alliance is looking to start up. While these all seem basic and understandable from the HDA’s side, Evander Kane, co-head of the HDA, said on NBCSN, “It’s definitely been a little bit more difficult than we anticipated because of the difficulty of these issues and thinking there’d be a better understanding of these issues.”

All of this conversation comes about six months after Akim Aliu claimed that now-former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters used racial slurs towards him when he played under him in the minor leagues. Peters was immediately fired, and it led to a string of coach firings surrounding the treatment of players regardless of race.

While the boycott response was nowhere near as quick and diligent as it needed to be, there are important conversations that are happening in the NHL offices that have never been had before, just like in many other sports leagues and workplaces across America. The minority players are to thank for this recent conversation, specifically Kane, Aliu, Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild and Anthony Duclair of the Ottawa Senators, just to name a few.

Yes, the boycott happened too late, and yes, the NHL has a way to go to get to the NBA’s level of social change, but through the HDA, the NHL is having unprecedented conversations. Even these small steps are something to recognize, and the hockey community must continue their growth.