Earlier this week, the NHL was criticized in some circles and celebrated in others for not holding protests during the U.S. national anthem or addressing systemic racism in America head-on.
But the league's approach flipped Saturday afternoon when Wild defenseman Matt Dumba gave a stirring pregame speech about racism ahead of Oilers vs. Blackhawks and then knelt for the anthem. He was flanked by Chicago goalie Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse.
Dumba attended the game as a lead member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. He is the first NHL player to kneel for the anthem this year in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.
People around the U.S. have taken to the streets over the past few months after the police-caused deaths of Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis and Black woman Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
"I know first-hand as a minority playing the great game of hockey the unexplainable and difficult challenges that come with it," Dumba said. "The Hockey Diversity Alliance and the NHL want kids to feel safe, comfortable and free-minded every time they enter an arena. . . . Black lives matter. Breonna Taylor's life matters. Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us."
Before Saturday's pregame demonstration, the NHL had been relatively quiet about the U.S. protest movement despite other sports, including NASCAR, offering clear responses.
Hockey has long been a game with a small percentage of Black players, and it subsequently holds a reputation for not always welcoming minority athletes. Less than 5 percent of the league is non-white.
Like NASCAR, the NHL is showing signs of a changing guard, at least in terms of public dialogue. It remains far behind other leagues in terms of diversity, though, and will need continued critical attention on the issue to produce meaningful change within its own ranks.