Vegas forward Ryan Reaves, one of the NHL’s few Black players, and goaltender Robin Lehner knelt with Dallas forward Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson before their round-robin postseason game in Edmonton, Alberta. The two Vegas players flanked the two Stars players as they took a knee on the blue line.
Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said that Reaves and Lehner approached him and Vegas management in the past 48 hours and had the team’s full support. Dallas coach Rick Bowness said he supported Seguin and Dickinson “100 percent.”
The demonstration came two days after Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to take a knee during the U.S. anthem. Dumba did so after delivering a speech against racial injustice before the league’s first Western Conference postseason game in Edmonton.
Reaves said that Dumba’s taking a knee on Saturday and then raising his fist on Sunday before the Wild’s first game weren’t a deciding factor in his decision to kneel but were a factor.
“We still were going to come together and talk about it, but Dums leading the way, you don’t want to leave him out to dry. That’s the whole point of this. You want to be united for the cause. When you see one of your brothers do that, you want to support him. You want to support the cause he’s fighting for,” Reaves said, adding that the final decision to take a knee was made with Lehner on Monday.
Lehner said he went to Reaves and told him that he wanted to take a knee during the anthems, and the duo agreed to do so. But there wasn’t a larger conversation in the Golden Knights’ dressing room, according to forward William Carrier, who was on the ice for the protest.
“It’s something that they wanted to do,” he said. “There wasn’t really a conversation going on in the room.”
Lehner didn’t begrudge any of his teammates who opted not to join the kneeling. “I respect everyone’s opinion,” he said. “That’s the problem with society these days. You have to hate the other person that has a different opinion than you. That’s the problem with the world right now.”
Lehner hasn’t shied away from making political statements on the ice before. While a member of the Buffalo Sabres in November 2016, he wore a goalie mask that supported then-president-elect Donald Trump. Lehner now says it’s a statement he regrets.
“I did the mistake once and put the Trump sticker on my mask. It’s something I regret now, seeing how divisive things have been. But at the end of the day, this is not about politics. This is about human rights,” said Lehner, who has publicly supported Akim Aliu, a hockey player who brought accusations of racial abuse against former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters.
“Everyone should have the same chance in society. Everyone should be treated the same,” Lehner said. “At the end of the day, I love America. But there are a bunch of things that need to be corrected, and it’s just about willingness to do something about it. I think it’s time for whites to step into the battle with our brothers and sisters and make some change. Stop just talking about it, and do something.”
Seguin said Reaves invited him to join in taking a knee during the pregame skate. Seguin attended a Black Lives Matter protest on June 4 in Dallas after releasing a statement on social media in which he said that he hoped society would “finally hear the historically stifled voices of all underrepresented groups of people” and vowed to do more to support them.
“I was giving it a lot of thought in the last 24 hours about what to do,” Seguin said. “I talked to Reaves during warm-ups. He said he saw what I was doing in Dallas and that him and Lehner were going to kneel and asked if I’d like to join them. So I told him I’d join them.
“Before the game [a 5-3 Vegas victory], I went into the dressing room and told everyone what I was doing. Told them there was absolutely no pressure to do anything. Dickinson grabbed me and said he’d like to be a part of it and support his beliefs and my beliefs.”
Dickinson said he had been considering some form of protest against racism in the months leading up to the restarted season. The NHL paused its regular season on March 12, and the league returned to finish the season on Aug. 1.
“I have some people of color in my family. It was any easy decision for me,” he said. “I was probably nervous to think about doing it on my own. When [Seguin] said he was, then it was a no-brainer for me, that I wouldn’t be alone doing it.”
The NHL’s restarted season has been defined by unprecedented support from the league on matters of social justice. The league has had electronic banners with “We Skate For Black Lives” on screens facing TV cameras during games. It aired pregame videos during the restart tournament’s opening weekend that mentioned both Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, who was killed on Memorial Day after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than seven minutes. The NHL’s video ended with the message “End Racism.”
On Saturday, before a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers, Dumba gave a heartfelt speech about fighting racial injustice before he became the first NHL player to take a knee during the U.S. national anthem. He stood for the Canadian anthem.
“To be honest, I kind of froze up. I know why I knelt. It wasn’t a sign of disrespect by any means. It was to shed light on the people who have lived through the injustice and oppression, especially in my home state of Minnesota. So I think that’s why I did it,” said Dumba, who represented the Hockey Diversity Alliance at the game. “My biggest regret is not doing it for the Canadian national anthem as well because there is a lot of light that needs to be shed on what is happening in Canada and the oppression First Nations people have felt here for hundreds of years.”
There were more than 80 players present for the anthems on Saturday and Sunday when Dumba protested. Although some supported him — the Oilers and Blackhawks tapped their sticks in appreciation after his speech — none joined him in taking a knee or raising a fist, including his teammates.
This wasn’t lost on Seguin.
“There was some influence. Nothing against his teammates. Everyone makes their own choices. I don’t think that means anyone doesn’t support him. But being two white guys, to do what we did … I wanted to be a part of that movement,” Seguin said. “I can’t honestly say I was going to go out there on my own and take a knee. But with them having a Black player on this team and his beliefs, I’ve said from day one I was going to support that any way that I can.”
When asked what cause he was supporting by kneeling, Dickinson said, “Black Lives Matter, equality, justice … you pick the term.”
Reaves, meanwhile, wanted to make it clear that kneeling for the anthems was not a protest against those who serve under those flags.
“I just want to say that in no way was I trying to disrespect the flag or our people that have fought for this county. I have the utmost respect for everyone that has fought and died for the freedom of this country. That’s not the message I’m trying to send,” said Reaves, noting that Vegas owner Bill Foley is a significant supporter of the military.
“But at the same time, those people go across seas, go to war, and families are torn apart in these wars for the freedom of this country, only to find out that this country isn’t free for everybody. That’s where I’m coming from. Not everyone is truly free in this country.”