As the NHL kicks off its much-hyped restart in the bubble hubs of Toronto and Edmonton, there are three words that the league has avoided at almost all costs.
Black Lives Matter.
At the start of its Stanley Cup qualifying series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon, the NHL held a special, re-opening day ceremony to acknowledge the drastic shift in circumstances that has unfolded since play stopped in mid March.
First, players gathered in a circle on center ice while the names of front line health care workers and social justice advocates were read out loud. Along the boards and in the stands, the NHL’s new equality hashtag #WeSkateFor lit up screens. Before the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba came out and took a historic knee, the NHL hashtag moved through several different iterations. It said #WeSkateForTheCup, #WeStakeForBetterDays, and finally, #WeSkateForBlackLives. The giant jumbotron screen then flashed the words, END RACISM. While ending racism is a lofty and admirable goal, it is about as specific as wishing for world peace. A nice idea, but one that is very unlikely to happen.
Missing from any inch of the arena was the mention of the movement that has come to define the last several months: Black Lives Matter. In its signage and marketing campaigns, the NHL has made a very specific and calculated choice by staying away from those words, and choosing instead the more neutral Black Lives.
In a voice over prior to the primetime game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens also on Saturday, NBC aired a brief racial equality promo that said there were “three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black Lives Matter.”
Even if the NHL tacitly cosigned on NBC’s used of Black Lives Matter during their broadcast, it’s clear the league is not comfortable saying those words and why, instead, they’re leaning so heavily on the anodyne “End Racism” and “Black Lives.”
To be clear, Black Lives Matter is not about eradicating all racism but about addressing racial injustice committed against Black people. It does not encompass the beast of all racism, yet speaks specifically to the Black experience as it relates to systemic and institutional oppression. Specifically, the Black Lives Matter movement has grown into a near-unstoppable force after the deaths of Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and far too many more.
The movement has specific goals, like calling for an end to racial profiling, police brutality and stop-and-frisk practices that disproportionally target Black men. There are real goals to the movement, and they go far beyond the nice but not tangible “end racism.” As of yet, the NHL has not spoken publicly about any intentions it has towards addressing the goals of the movement. In a brief interview, Kim Davis, the NHL Executive Vice President of Social Impact only said teams would consider their relationships to law enforcement “artfully and carefully.”
There’s a difference then, when the NHL says #WeSkateForBlack Lives, than if they simply had used the phrase Black Lives Matter. It is a …read more