The African-American athlete is often ignored when discussing issues in the world of professional hockey. The Shadow League has referenced hockey’s racial, generational and cultural divide when discussing the sport in the past. There are some talented brothers in the NHL (on the low), but their are no Black heroes. No Colin Kaepernick or LeBron James.
Sharks winger Joel Ward might be the first one. Ward, an African-American NHL player who has received death threats and endured disparaging racial attacks from hockey fans in the past, said that "he may kneel in protest during the national anthem."
In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Ward said he may be inspired to do so considering his experience as one of hockey’s relatively few black players.
NHL forward Joel Ward says he hasn't ruled out taking a knee to protest inequality.
“I’ve experienced a lot of racism myself in hockey and on a day-to-day occurrence. I haven’t really sat down to think about it too much yet, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to (taking a knee) ,” he told Paul Gackle of the Mercury News.
Ward is one of about 30 black players in the NHL, according to deadspin.com. No hockey player has kneeled for the anthem or contemplated the idea until now.
In the past, social issues that affected people of color wouldn’t necessarily move the needle at all in the hockey world as the majority of the fans and players have always been white. However, the NHL’s African-American population is growing and guys like Jarome Iginla and P.K. Subban are high profile names within the sport. They can't help but get inspired by the actions of their fellow athletes in other sports.
The WSJ's Lee Hawkins talks to Washington Capitals winger Joel Ward about his ongoing effort to encourage more black youths to play hockey and a series of racist tweets sent out by some angry Boston Bruins fan after Ward scored a game-winning goal in overtime to knock the Bruins out of the race for the playoffs.
Ward seems to understand what Colin Kaepernick's silent protest was about and he's in tune with why athletes across the sports landscape have chosen to join Kap in taking a knee in opposition of racial injustice.
“It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with,” Ward said of racism. “So when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis.”
San Jose Sharks' Joel Ward on protests during the anthem: "... I definitely wouldn't say no to it." https://t.co/YvrY3QKqC8
The table is set for Ward, who wears No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, to take his knee whenever the spirit arises. He has the full support of his head coach Pete DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson.
DeBoer says he and Wilson are “big freedom of speech” guys who will be supportive of any player choosing to express themselves by kneeling during the national anthem. The publicity wouldn’t hurt the NHL either. They need to get in on this all-media exploitation of Colin Kaepernick's original protest. Might even gain some African-American viewers in the process.
It’s all up to Ward and whether or not he chooses to plunge himself into the headlines and put hockey in the path of President Trump’s Twitter rage.