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Why Sports As Escapism Is The Very Reason Opting Not To Play Gets Attention For Racial Injustice

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“We can talk all we want, but until we do something, it’s all just words.”

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs - Edmonton - Press Conference Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Whenever a story is written about a player from any sport opting not to play in order to call attention to racial injustices happening on an all-too-frequent basis in the United States, there’s always a line of responses that resemble some form of “I don’t want politics in my sports. Sports is my escape.”

But that’s exactly why not playing is the point.

Escapism allows us to bury our heads in the sand, to not address heavy emotional, racial, social, economic, or other inequity or issues the world around us is going through for a few hours. By not playing, athletes across various sports leagues are sending a message that they don’t want to provide that escape, that they will not be one more way for people to bury their heads from everything that has been happening in our society today.

In a lot of ways, taking hockey to silent mode fits into the culture of hockey.

“I don’t know if it’s because we come from, honestly, the hockey culture of kind of being quiet, kind of not speaking your mind all the time,” Tyler Seguin said after the team’s game on Thursday night. “I think guys have become more comfortable and confident to do so, to speak up, but as far as league-wide, I definitely think we need to do more.”

The ‘more’ he described there has been fairly nebulous to date, though deciding as a players association not to play games Thursday and Friday nights so that all teams were involved in this statement against racial inequality is a visible step in that direction.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance laid out league-wide initiatives they’d like to see happen in mid-July:

  • The NHL to commit to diversifying NHL and team staff and suppliers. “‘Black suppliers’ should deliver at least 10 percent of NHL procurement expenditure by the 2020-21 season.”
  • For the NHL to be fully and completely transparent regarding all information “related to the policies, targets and commitments” related to the hiring of employees who are visible minorities.
  • Asked the NHL to commit $10 million per year ($100 million total) over 10 years to battle systemic racism. Westhead adds that the HDA has suggested that money go towards grassroots programs, anti-racism education, social justice initiatives, executive and coach training, and youth scholarships.
  • Requested that the league run PSAs for the Hockey Diversity Alliance during the NHL postseason this summer and for the on-ice presence of the HDA logo throughout the playoffs to raise awareness of the initiative.
  • Proposed “Black out” warm-up jerseys to help build awareness of the alliance’s agenda and which could be sold to help raise money for HDA initiatives.
  • Proposed the NHL temporarily changing the blue line to black for some games to raise awareness.

None of these have been agreed to by the league at this time. So for those banging their fist asking what the players are doing — they’re trying to make tangible and visible changes.

Seguin and Jason Dickinson were both among the most visible on the Dallas Stars team when it comes to expressing a desire to make those changes at the player level. “I know we talked about this a lot before that my personal plan was to start doing something next season,” Seguin said Thursday night. “Maybe that changes now, I don’t know. Things are getting more intense. What happened was heartbreaking and, quite honestly, BS. We need change.”

In announcing the players’ decision not to play Thursday and Friday night, Dickinson did make a salient point. “It’s tough to do a whole lot while we’re in this bubble. We can keep using our words and keep trying to get it out into the media, but it’s going to come down to our action once we’re out of here. We’ve got to start doing more.”

These guys are isolated in a lot of ways from the world in the bubble setups. But that doesn’t mean that action plans aren’t being worked on. Or educating themselves isn’t an option. There’s plenty of down time in the bubble from what we’ve been told — there are books that could be read, trainings that could be attended, documentaries that could be watched, podcasts that could be listened to, and conversations about the hard topics that could be had with family, friends, and colleagues.

All of those things are foundational steps that could be utilized to enact action to bakcup their words once they’re not in an isolation bubble. Because as Dickinson himself said, “We can talk all we want, but until we do something, it’s all just words.”