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Photo Credit: © Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks not playing tonight is the right decision, but it is not enough

There once was a time in my life when nothing seemed more important than the Vancouver Canucks. To convey to my previous self that, in the year 2020, the Canucks might find themselves unexpectedly in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, heading into game three with a series tie, and that I wouldn’t be excited to see them play — that I’d actually be deeply disappointed — would have been extremely difficult.

But that’s the situation I found myself in while preparing to write what would’ve been tonight’s  postgame recap.

As I did so, I was under the impression that tonight’s games would be preceding as planned, and here’s what I wrote:

The Statement

The world has changed, and we must change with it.

I’m prepared for the comments that will almost certainly follow this brief preamble. “Stick to hockey!” “Keep the politics out of sports!” “Get off your soapbox!”

Let them come.

To some extent, I understand. Sports are often a refuge for people to the trials and tribulations of the real world, an escape where we can get away from the complexities of modernity and go back to our tribal roots. A lot of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. But these are unprecedented times. This discussion may make you uncomfortable, but comfort is a privilege. And it’s one that your fellow citizens can’t afford you to have right now.

Last night, NBA players performed a strike action that postponed three playoff games, and threatened to wipe out the remainder of their postseason. LeBron James, perhaps the greatest athlete of his generation, showed he was prepared to walk away from the pursuit of another championship in the name of justice.

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Last night, one of three NHL games featured a “moment of reflection.”

Today, the NHL marches on as if nothing has happened.

Injustice affects us all. The need for equity, the need for all people to have equal access to justice, and the inability for people to live under oppressive conditions are universal. This is an issue that, despite being politicized, transcends politics.

You can debate the minutiae of the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice initiatives as much as you’d like. You don’t have to agree with every statement being made. But the time in which is it possible to ignore this issue, to pretend it doesn’t exist, has passed. Listen to the people around you. Listen to their experiences, apply empathy to their trauma, and believe them when they tell you that immediate change is needed.

Human rights are not an NBA issue, they’re not an American issue, they’re not a black issue.

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Human rights are a human issue, and our very humanity demands that we do something about it.

For the NHL to do nothing — even worse, to do nothing while their brothers and sisters in other sports stand tall — shows a distinct lack thereof.

What Now?

Obviously, much has changed since I wrote those words a few hours ago.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance made a public statement of their own calling for the suspension of all games tonight, discussions within dressing rooms, including that of the Canucks, followed, and it was ultimately decided that no NHL games would be played.

Most heartening of all, it sounds as though the Canucks themselves were a leading voice in the discourse.

Reactions ranged from “finally!” to “too little, too late” to “not enough.”

Of course, there were also plenty of reactions from those lacking the empathy and humanity to want to participate in this discussion, but we will rightly ignore them for now.

The question on most reasonable peoples’ minds right now is “What now? What next?”

Obviously, much has changed since I wrote those words a few hours ago. And at the same time, nothing has changed.

The NHL found itself at a crossroads this morning, and I strongly believe that the players made the right choice by decided to postpone the games tonight.

But one step down the right path does not a movement make.

The NHL is still at a crossroads after tonight.

No doubt, the league is going to resume play, if not tomorrow, then almost certainly the next day.

How they do so will be every bit as important as the small steps they took today.

If the league moves on from this as if nothing has changed, or as if a simple postponement accomplishes anything, then all those people wondering “What good does this do?” will be right.

If the league continues to pretend that stating “We Skate For Black Lives” in the same breath and on the same screens as “We Skate For ‘Insert Local Slogan Here’” is anything other than an intentional avoidance of “Black Lives Matter,” it will reveal their actions today as nothing more than a (delayed) reactionary PR stunt.

If the NHL continues to put greater effort into hawking “Equality” merchandise in their online store than putting resources into direct action — funding diversity committees, opening up NHL arenas as polling stations, promoting mandatory education for players — they’ll be sending the worst possible message.

Because the only message worse than “We don’t care,” is “We only care when the issue begins to affect our profit margins.”

As of right now, it’s a little difficult to believe that tonight’s postponement was truly the result of organic discourse among the players, and not a cynical attempt to latch onto the strong social leadership of NBA players.

It’s the moral equivalent of an empty-net goal.

This was the easiest move they could have made.

The next moves are the ones that count.