The NHL and its players had an opportunity to sincerely show they are meaningfully engaged in social justice issues, but both of them carried on as though nothing was wrong.
Some observers noted that the NHL’s ‘moment of reflection’ Wednesday night lasted only 27 seconds. I actually counted 33.69 between the time PA announcer Mike Ross began speaking and teed up the national anthems, which included six-plus seconds of ‘reflection’. It was a total of 73 words, 384 characters. With a nip and a tuck here and there, the NHL could have contained its message in a simple tweet.
And it likely would have had the same impact, which was none. While player-driven boycotts caused the postponement of all three playoff games in the NBA, all three games in the WNBA, five of six games in MLS and three of 16 games in MLB, the NHL continued along its merry way as though there was nothing to see here. At a crucial time when the NHL had a great opportunity to actually show that it’s invested in social issues, it came out flatter than the Boston Bruins did in their 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NHL played three games on Wednesday, one at 3 p.m., another at 8 p.m. and the last at 10:30 p.m. (all times Eastern). The participants in all three games claimed they found out only about the developments in the outside world once they arrived at the rink and by that time it was too late to discuss any kind of action because they were focused on task at hand. And in what might have been the most hockey player-like observation of the day, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said, “We were just basically following the schedule the NHL provided for us.”
Chara also pointed out that, “there are different ways to express that fight.” And he’s absolutely right. Players are free to express, or not express, their opinions in whatever form they wish. Players in four other major leagues and the professional tennis circuit made it clear they were not prepared to play for other peoples’ entertainment when there are so many other more important issues to contemplate. NHL players did not join in that decision and it’s fully their right to do so. They have the right to be tone deaf and they also have the right to separate what they do for a living from what they believe.
So it was incumbent upon the NHL and NHL Players’ Association to step up here. Would it have killed the NHL, which has had to prepare this entire tournament on the fly, to simply say that it supports the players in the other leagues and would join them in sitting out? The players did not hire Kim Davis as a league vice-president three years ago. The players themselves did not issue a Statement of Principles a few years back. The league and the NHLPA did that. And the players did not enforce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism back in December. “Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords,” Bettman said at the time. “They are foundational principles of the NHL.”
You want buzzwords? Well, start with something like, “Racism has been embedded in our society for far too long.” Then go on to say you’d, “like to take this opportunity to wish Jacob Blake and his family well…” Make it 73 words and 33.69 seconds long and do it a full three days after the incident in question. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the textbook definition of pandering and paying lip service. The NHL says inclusion and diversity are not buzzwords, then offers 73 buzzwords when other leagues are postponing games.
But why should we be surprised? The NHL pretending to care about things is nothing new. Take, for example, its Department of Player Safety. The NHL says it’s concerned about the safety of its players, then hires in succession four former players who amasseda total of 5,993 penalty minutes and 429 fights who chronically under-suspend players for miscreant on-ice behavior.
Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba lamented that the NHL always seems to be late to the party when it comes to social issues. In response to the Jacob Blake shooting, the NHL and its players weren’t only late to the party, they basically stopped in to make an appearance, had a quick drink and left.