Editor’s Note: NHL players have complained about racism and social injustice since the death of George Floyd, a black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. ‘May ago. raised his fist during the national anthem to draw attention to the same issues. With calls for social justice and the fight against racism taking the stage during the Return of the NHL Games, Brown wrote a special essay for the League on his decision to raise his fist:
On October 7, 2017, I had the choice. I can wrap up and play hockey, or I can do something so powerful that the whole hockey community listens to me. Nothing is ever accomplished if we all keep our heads and mouths shut. So, during the national anthem in Sunrise, Florida, I raised my fist to protest police brutality and racism. The same fist I found the arenas on their feet while exchanging blows with opponents bigger than her. The same fist that shattered from blocking a shot during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The same fist that gave the big numbers to Black and Spanish kids in the community while teaching them how to play hockey. I have always sacrificed for my team, for the supporters, for my community. In 2017 I had the opportunity to sacrifice for something bigger than hockey, and I knew I had to do it.
While everyone was focused on making the team off the field or preparing for the season to begin, I was asked by the media if I was going to protest during the national anthem. I was already feeling the pressure of a contract year, and now I had to decide if I was willing to do something uncomfortable and not a feature for my sport. I’m a man inside and outside the lineup who has just slowed down enough to stick around the fourth line. I knew I was substitutable. I knew protesting could make it harder to get another contract next season. My family and I were prepared for this to end my career in the NHL. I decided I was comfortable being uncomfortable.
Hockey is played mostly by rich white men and conforms to the mentality of the team that is rooted from a young age. My entire professional career, I have been one of the 30 black hockey something in the League. For most of my entire hockey career, I was the only Black person or person of color on my team. It’s an experience that can make you feel like the Black Guy token. An experience that makes you hyperaware of your Black, wondering if you’re acting too Black or too white. Understanding where and how to enter can be lonely and this shapes the person as a person. I’ll be honest, most of the time, we’re all just partners. We joke, play video games, play cards and bet on the football game. Then there are times when I’m the only player required by the security arena for my credentials when I’m just trying to get into my locker room. Or when I asked the hotel security to leave the hockey players alone and leave the hotel lobby when I’m just waiting with a teammate for our bus. Let’s not forget the classic line that every Black hockey player knows all too well, “go play basketball,” which I heard during a hockey game at the highest level from an opposing player. I worked hard all my life to show that I was part of the NHL, and when I did, I was still reminded that I am a black man playing white sport.
Before raising my fist during the national anthem, I spoke to the team owner, general manager, coach and teammate. I told them that I intended to raise my fist in solidarity during the national anthem as a symbolic protest against police brutality and racism. They were welcome to come and talk to me if they wanted to have a better understanding of my intentions. When I talked to my coach about my plans to protest, I told him about the time I had a rifle pointed at my head. I usually tell the story of when I was called the word n during a youth hockey game, and my coach told the ref that our team will leave the whole game if it doesn’t come out. a boy who told her. The ref didn’t fire the child, so his partner and my coach were all with me as soon as we left the game. Those are the stories that people like to hear because they offer resolution and a sense of community. We don’t usually talk about when I was in a part of the house in high school, and some kids from school pulled a rifle and aimed at heads as they were calling the word n. People don’t like these stories because they reveal truths they choose to ignore. These are the things that shaped me as a man. These are the things that all led me to put my fist in the air.
Video: Predators and Stars sit arms for hymns
My father and I talked at length about how this decision could impact my career, my family, and my livelihood. I am weak on him for advice because of his unique experience as not only a returning former National Football League, but also his post-football career as a Ramsey county probation officer and a Ramsey county correctional officer. minors. I always went to my father for life and career advice. While he was afraid of me and the repercussions I faced, he knew this was something I had to do, and he fully supported me.
I decided to punch a long heart with a friend who is the retired Air Force Sergeant Major (E-7) who served during Operation Enduring Fault and Operation Iraqi Freedom. We talked about how I needed to protest, but I also wanted to be aware of those who are serving and serving our country. Due to the logistics of where we are during the anthem, I would not be able to get on my knees. I felt a raised fist best represented my intentions by symbolizing solidarity, support, strength, and even resistance.
My first protest was during a pre-season hockey game and went unnoticed. However, on October 7, 2017, I was back in the program for a regular season game. That protest went viral almost immediately. In the weeks following the game, I had a meeting in person with management and after a meeting at the home of the team owner. They both wanted to know what I needed and how they could help me get what I was trying to do. This was a tough question because I didn’t know how to solve racism in America, and I still don’t. Even before I protested, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a national impact, but I was hoping it would facilitate a positive impact in Tampa.
My team has been able to support my initiatives and with the resources provided I’ve been able to implement changes that I thought could benefit my community. The action plan included two things. He first worked with the Tampa Police Department. I developed a relationship with the police chief, I went on ride-alongs, and some of my teammates and I went through police training myself. The second, which unfortunately never bore fruit because I found myself playing in Anaheim, was a program that brings police and children from the community to watch the lightning games. I got a lot of shell out from the Black community for these actions. I understood how problematic it was to integrate myself into a situation where the narrative shifted from police brutality to the use of my actions to something some consider to be police rhetoric. As Black athletes, we were automatically put in a unique position that year. We were the only athletes constantly asked if we would like to protest. He puts us all in a tough place. We were forced to choose a side. Am I Black, or am I a hockey player? We were all hurt if we did and hurt if we didn’t
Video: Penguins, Flyers join for social justice
I asked my wife before that preseason game to stay out of social media. I knew it was going to be ugly. I want to make sure I also mention all the incredible support and love I received after my protest. Unfortunately, not everyone understood. I received death threats; people had told me they hoped I had a career-ending injury; people would even call my daughter’s daughter the word. To this day, when I speak out against racism, there is someone on my Twitter mentioning that they tell me they want to hang out with me or call me the word. The consequence reinforced my belief that I did the right thing. I know the hockey community, and specifically, the Black community heard me acknowledge their pain and understood that I took an oath that game to always fight for equality.
Before I raised my fist, I had never felt like an activist myself. I’ve always focused on being a professional hockey player and understanding how I was able to stay in the NHL. That changed in June 2017, when the Falcon Heights, Minnesota police officer who killed Philando Castile in 2016 was acquitted of murder in the process. Castile was killed and killed while sitting in his car in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. The viral video of that little girl watching her mother-in-law as they were both placed in the back of a police car broke me. By this time, I had a daughter, Lily, and I realized that I have a responsibility to fight for a better future for her and the other Black children.
Fast forward to 2020, when Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. For the first time, I saw an idea of a Championship consisting of predominantly wealthy white men speaking out against issues that were once overlooked. It has been promising to see activism in the NHL move forward. The urgency for social change does not stop as the roots of the protests disappear and disappear from our schedules. So whether you use your hands to make donations, volunteer, hold signs while protesting, be vocal online, or raise your fist in solidarity, we all have a responsibility to fight for equality. History cannot continue to repeat itself.