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A Change, If We Work For It

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Ducks acquire J.T. Brown, the first player in NHL to protest during national anthem Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I was originally going to include the following article in today’s Quick Hits, but the little piece of writing that accompanies each article turned into more writing than I expected, so I decided to make it its own article. First, here is the original article, which I really hope everyone here takes the time to read, either now or after reading the rest of this article.

Why I raised my fist: JT Brown

I decided to go fist up after a long heart-to-heart with a friend who is a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant (E-7) who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. We talked about how I needed to protest, but I also wanted to be mindful of those who are serving and have served our country. Given the logistics of where we stand during the anthem, I would have been unable to take a knee. I felt a raised fist best represented my intentions as it symbolizes solidarity, support, strength, and even resistance.

The entire article is a must-read, but this part echoes how other players in other sports, most notably Colin Kaepernick, have consulted with military members to decide the best way to protest. Even so, a frequent attack is that they are disrespecting the country, the troops, etc.

The article details how Brown spent a lot of time and effort to figure out the best way to make his point.

Before I raised my fist during the national anthem, I spoke with the team’s owner, general manager, coach, and teammates.

I was particularly struck by one section in which he talked about how he typically shares one story when trying to explain to people experiences he has had as a Black man, but in this case, he decided to share a story that was much darker.

When I spoke with my coach about my plans to protest, I told him about the time I had a shotgun pointed at my head. I usually tell the story about when I was called the n-word during a youth hockey game, and my coach told the ref that our team would all leave the game if he didn’t kick out the kid who said it. The ref wouldn’t kick the kid out, and so my teammates and coach all stood with me as we left the game. Those are the stories people like to hear because they offer resolution and a sense of community. I usually don’t talk about when I was at a house party in high school, and some kids from school pulled out a shotgun and aimed it at my head as they were calling me the n-word.

I went to a teach-in a few weekends ago at a park in the township in which I teach at the high school. Many former students spoke. I had never personally taught any of them, but I recognized most of them.

One young woman who graduated in 2018 shared how her group of white friends would casually call her the n-word frequently. I knew that there were definitely issues with race in the community, but I didn’t know it was to that extent. She didn’t share who the students were, but there’s a reasonable chance that I knew them. I didn’t think any of the students I knew would do that. I was wrong.

It would be really easy to pretend that she was exaggerating or even making up the story. It’s harder to realize that the lens through which I experience life isn’t as wide as I thought. I don’t want to ever hear another student has had that experience. That can only happen if I and other people get out of our comfort zone and work to make change happen.

I like to tell my students that being ignorant about something isn’t necessarily a bad thing. According to one definition, it just means you don’t know something. We all are ignorant of many things, myself included. But once we learn about something, we can’t use ignorance as an excuse. I now know how much change is needed at my school, and if I don’t do anything, that’s on me.

We are seeing this play out at the national level in the sporting world and beyond. I completely understand how it can be easy to not want to have these tough conversations. It would be a lot easier to allow sports to be a welcome distraction from the difficult times we are all facing. The thing is, the people who are being affected don’t have that luxury.

I hope that people read the JT Brown article I linked with an open mind. It’s been made abundantly clear recently that the NHL and hockey in general has a ways to go towards eradicating racism, homophobia, etc. We can get there, but in the words of someone far more eloquent than I: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”*

*It seems that the origin of this quote is not known, but whomever did say it is more eloquent than I.