Matt Dumba kneeled during the U.S. national anthem Saturday after vowing that the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance will stand up for justice and against racism.
The Minnesota Wild defenseman spoke at center ice at Rogers Place before the Edmonton Oilers faced the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their best-of-5 series in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Oilers and Blackhawks players surrounded Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, as he spoke. When the U.S. anthem was played, Dumba dropped to one knee. Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who are Black Canadians, stood beside him and put their hands on his shoulders.
"During this pandemic, something unexpected but long overdue occurred: The world woke up to the existence of systemic racism and how deeply rooted it is within our society," Dumba said. "Racism is a man-made creation and all it does is deteriorate from our collective prosperity. Racism is everywhere. Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it.
"On behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance, we vow and promise to stand up for justice and fight for what is right," he said. "I know first-hand as a minority playing the great game of hockey the unexplainable and difficult challenge that come with it. The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time they enter an arena. I stand in front of you today on behalf of those groups and promise you that we will fight against injustice and fight for what is right."
Dumba wore a black hoodie with the Hockey Diversity Alliances initials in white letters. The alliance, a group of current and former NHL players, was formed in June with a mission to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.
He ended his speech saying "Black Lives Matter," the life of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency medical technician who was fatally shot by police who stormed into her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 23, matters, and "hockey is a great game but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us."
Former Tampa Bay Lightning forward JT Brown, who raised his fist to the air to protest police brutality during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at an Oct. 7, 2017 game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, said he was moved by Dumba's words and actions Saturday.
"I thought it was powerful, especially the speech -- I thought it was moving," said Brown, who plays for the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa. "A true sign of support, I thought it was awesome. Having [Subban's and Nurse's] hands on his shoulders, was good for them to show their support for Dumba but also acknowledging what he was doing and, I guess, how brave it was to do that and speak on a national level."
The NHL opened the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers Saturday with a loud and clear message: We Skate For Black Lives.
"We Skate For Black Lives" and "We Skate for Equality" flashed across the scoreboard and screens at Rogers Place during a ceremony before the Oilers-Blackhawks game.
The pregame ceremony kicked off the NHL's salute to racial justice activists and healthcare workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the Qualifiers and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As part of the NHL's #WeSkateFor initiative, all 32 teams and players will honor and celebrate community heroes, health care workers and racial justice activists through various local and national programs and activities, including charitable donation drives, social media campaigns and using the hashtag #WeSkateFor and pregame acknowledgements.
Players wore #WeSkateFor Equality helmet decals in support of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. They also received a hoodie to personalize with the name of whom or what he skates for.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in a message to fans on NHL.com, said the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, and the "ensuing demand for justice and equality that inspiringly swept our countries, required us to accept that what we have done to this point isn't enough."
"So we must and will do more and be better to make our game a welcoming place for everyone," Bettman said.
Kim Davis, the NHL's senior executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, said Saturday's events are part of efforts by the League and its players to convert the emotion from Floyd's death into concrete long-term action.
"We won't simply judge ourselves based on this campaign in the next few days," she said. "We are committed to substantive, long-term action, which is hard work, takes time, but moves the needle on both structural and individual racism and inequality in our game," she said.