EDMONTON — Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel for a national anthem during the league’s restart on Saturday.
The Regina native made a speech about social and racial justice prior to Edmonton’s first game of the NHL restart — the second overall — before he kneeled for The Star Spangled Banner.
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Players from the Oilers and Blackhawks stood around the centre-ice circle for both anthems prior to the Edmonton-Chicago game.
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse and Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban each put a hand on Dumba’s shoulder as he kneeled for a recording of the American anthem. All three players are Black.
Dumba’s speech and demonstration caught the attention of players in Toronto, at the NHL’s Eastern Conference bubble. Toronto Maple Leafs alternate captain Morgan Rielly said that the NHL’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement is “an ongoing process” but that Dumba’s actions impressed him.
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“I think what he did was incredibly powerful and I think he should be very proud,” said Rielly. “As players in this league, we just want to give him support and the movement support and be a part of it.
“I think what he did today was outstanding. I think it’s important that we realize how brave he was and make sure we give him support and try to fix this.”
Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Buble sang O Canada on a video recorded at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. Dumba stood for that anthem, played after The Star Spangled Banner.
Dumba wore a “Hockey Diversity Alliance” shirt for the ceremony, which also paid tribute to front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Racism is everywhere, and we need to fight against it,” Dumba said.
A similar ceremony was planned for Saturday night’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins in Toronto. No players appeared to kneel during anthems prior the first two games in Toronto.
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Social justice has been a theme in sports restarts.
Almost all NBA players have kneeled for the American anthem since the league resumed play Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
Major League Baseball also had players kneeling during its opening games last week, though it was not as big a percentage.
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