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NHL joins protest of police shooting of Jacob Blake as playoff games are postponed

"End Racism" is displayed on the scoreboard in

"End Racism" is displayed on the scoreboard in light of the recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, prior to Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta. Credit: TNS/Bruce Bennett

Five-and-a-half months after the its decision to suspend play because of the coronavirus prompted other sports leagues around the world to do the same, the NBA's move to postpone its slate of playoff games Wednesday in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake  led the way for other leagues, teams and professional athletes across North America to join in the effort to bring about social change.

The NHL, which played its full schedule of playoff games Wednesday, joined   the protest Thursday as the league and its players' union jointly announced that Thursday’s and Friday’s games would be postponed. There were two games on the NHL schedule Thursday, including Game 3 of the Islanders’ second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, and two games on Friday’s schedule.

“Black and Brown communities continue to face real, painful experiences,’’ the league and union said in the joint release. “The NHL and NHLPA recognize that much work remains to be done before we can play an appropriate role in a discussion centered on diversity, inclusion and social justice.

“We understand that the tragedies involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others require us to recognize this moment. We pledge to work to use our sport to influence positive change in society.’’

Blake, 29, was shot several times in the back Sunday by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, policeman, and his family says he is paralyzed from the waist down. To protest the shooting, and demand the Wisconsin authorities to act more swiftly, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their playoff game Wednesday against the Orlando Magic. Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers quickly followed by deciding not to play their game against the Cincinnati Reds, and the NBA postponed all three playoff games it had scheduled for Wednesday. Two additional Major League Baseball games ended up not being played and a handful of baseball players sat out of games that were played, in protest. The Mets’ Dominic Smith knelt during the national anthem.

“There are serious issues in our country,’’ Seattle Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon said in a tweet, in explaining why his team voted to not play its game Wednesday against the San Diego Padres. “For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight.

“Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening.’’

Major League Soccer postponed five games Wednesday, and the WNBA scrubbed two games and postponed its Thursday games as well. Tennis player Naomi Osaka announced Wednesday night she would not play in Thursday’s semifinal of the Western and Southern Open and, hours later, tournament officials announced that it would not play Thursday and would return Friday. Osaka then said she will play Friday.

On Thursday, nine NFL teams, including the Jets, chose not to practice, and two college football teams, Boston College and South Florida, also canceled their workouts. The NFL’s Detroit Lions had already canceled Tuesday’s practice to discuss the shooting. Both local MLS clubs, NYCFC and the Red Bulls, canceled their scheduled media availability Thursday in advance of their games Saturday.

The NHL took heat from media and from some of the league’s better-known Black players for not postponing its games Wednesday night. The Islanders and Flyers were in the midst of Game 2 of their series when the Bucks decided not to play, but the other two games, Boston-Tampa Bay and Colorado-Dallas were played after the NBA announced its postponements.

In a Zoom call with the media Thursday featuring members of the four Eastern Conference teams playing in the Toronto bubble, Tampa Bay defenseman, and former Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk said the players spoke with some Western Conference players in the Edmonton bubble and learned that the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks were considering not playing their scheduled game. After speaking with Ryan Reaves, a forward on the Golden Knights who is Black, the players all decided they would support the idea of not playing Thursday and Friday.

"We had these conversations among ourselves this morning with our teams, and around the league and as a unit that these days, need to be, you know, used in the right manner,’’ Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “Obviously, we need to step back, reflect a little bit [and] just to take a little moment to, to realize what's going on. Obviously there's a problem iin the States, and there is a reason why all the major sports are doing what they're doing right now, to kind of make sure that we all realize that needs to be changed.’’

Islanders coach Barry Trotz, on his pregame Zoom interview with reporters Thursday, before the NHL announced its decision to postpone the games, said his team discussed the entire situation.

“They understand the importance of the playoffs, but they also understand where the world is right now,’’ Trotz said. “I think what happened [Wednesday] night is a great statement for the athletes. They have a great platform, and they used it.’’

Trotz said everyone, including himself, needs to get more involved in fighting for social justice.

“The players are going to have to get involved,’’ he said. “I'm going to have to get involved. Everybody. And if you do that, that will effect change for our country. And it definitely needs it right now.’’

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