If the leagues had it their way, there would have been a full slate of games across all sports on Wednesday night — or three days following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
For all the recognition the NBA rightly receives for being progressive, and considerate, and attentive to the societal issues that affect their athletes and continue to plague our world, it was the courage of 17 basketball players — not a franchise, and not an association — that set in motion the necessary response to another senseless shooting of a member of the Black community, this one from right in their own backyard.
Refusing to serve as a distraction for lawmakers, first, in addition to those either desensitized or far too willing to gloss over the fact that a man paid to protect the peace in the state they call home fired seven bullets into Blake’s back — all while protests continue across the United States and Canada following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among many others — the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round series versus the Orlando Magic.
Milwaukee’s boycott led to an incredibly compelling moment in sports television, as broadcasters learned of the decision in real time and began to engage in the very real, very important discussions about race and the injustices the Black community continues to encounter, of which carried on throughout the day.
It also set off a chain of events across professional sports, with the remaining games on the schedule Wednesday inside the NBA and WNBA bubbles postponed, in addition to several games across Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.
Unfortunately, and rather predictably, where it caused but a minor ripple was with the NHL.
As speculation was coming to a head while overtime between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders was wrapping up, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston that the league had no plans to follow suit with the postponement of games, and that players remain “free to express themselves in any manner they feel is appropriate.”
Translation: It’s on the players, and not the corporation, to join the protest, to demand change, to fight for justice and equality.
If there were discussions among players and inside organizations about possibly not showing up to the rink or remaining in the dressing rooms as the seconds ticked down toward puck drop, they did not, unsurprisingly, result in the same sort brave consensus that the Bucks came up with earlier in the afternoon.
Both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning took to the ice for warmups in the next scheduled game, then stood in silence for a “moment of reflection” after the police shooting of another Black man as the NHL again stated over the P.A. system that it cares about Black lives, and then went ahead with Game 3 of their second-round series.
The NBA, WNBA, and MLB did not play games as scheduled today because players chose to strike.— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) August 27, 2020
This was the NHL's response.. pic.twitter.com/aDGoYZyiJt
Even less was done before the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars squared off later on.
To march forward unbothered, blind to the light it shines, with only going so far as to check a box with a 45-second acknowledgment of another gravely serious incident that serves as the latest example of the oppression that Black people face is the latest horrible look for a league that has made a habit of missing the mark on these issues.
It’s also another example of the damaging lack of diversity in the sport, because it seems there may not be 17 athletes across all teams willing to stand up and make the sort of decision the Bucks did today.
Many of hockey’s few have left, or in the case of Evander Kane, never arrived at the bubble.
It’s that reason alone why the NHL isn’t doing enough by doing what the other leagues have done, which is to simply listen to its athletes.
For the league to change, the onus is on the NHL to take a stand on societal issues, to educate its players, its employees, and its fans, and to realize in a moment like this one that its importance simply pales in comparison.
Hockey didn’t matter tonight.
And the NHL failed, again, by failing to realize it.
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