EDMONTON, Alberta – A microphone clutched in his right hand, Wild defenseman Matt Dumba walked to center ice Saturday afternoon inside Rogers Place in Edmonton and exhaled.
He had just been waiting in the wings with teammates Jonas Brodin and Alex Galchenyuk and, sensing Dumba was nervous, the two tried to divert his attention elsewhere. They had music playing and were listening to him rehearse his speech.
“If you’ve got the nerves to handle this,” Galchenyuk told Dumba, “nothing can stop you tomorrow or in this playoff run.”
Once it was time to go, Dumba felt like a fighter entering the ring.
And after he took that deep breath, lifted the microphone and started to share the words he memorized Friday after piecing them together Wednesday and Thursday, Dumba became the face of hockey’s fight against racial injustice.
“All the strength that it took to do it, it came from all the people who have supported me along the way,” Dumba said Sunday ahead of the Wild’s playoff opener later that evening against Vancouver. “My family, got to thank them, and especially the members at the (Hockey Diversity Alliance). Hearing those guys’ stories and everything we talk about has given me the courage to do the things that I’ve done.”
Following his nearly three-minute message to a national TV audience in the United States and Canada, Dumba became the first NHLer to kneel during the U.S. national anthem.
He then stood up for the Canadian national anthem but said Sunday he regrets doing that.
“To be honest, I kind of froze up,” Dumba said on a video call from the Wild’s hotel. “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. That’s why I did it.
“I think 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 for hundreds of years. I was disappointed looking back on it because, like I said, I knew the reasons why I knelt. Just in the moment it happened like that.”
Dumba, who is Filipino-Canadian, said he will raise a fist for both anthems during the playoffs. He consulted with Iowa Wild forward JT Brown, who raised his fist during the anthem three years ago when he played for Tampa Bay.
“If I’m not in the starting lineup, I might be on the bench and if I take a knee on the bench, they might not even be able to see me,” Dumba said. “I took a knee yesterday. I regret that I didn’t kneel for both anthems. But I will be raising a fist for the rest of the tournament.”
The opportunity for Dumba to speak when the NHL resumed its season after a four-plus-months break caused by the coronavirus pandemic came up over the past few weeks, and after discussing it with the league, the Hockey Diversity Alliance and its advisory group, Dumba got the green light only a couple of days before the playoffs officially kicked off in the Western Conference hub city.
His words emphasized racism as a “man-made creation” that is everywhere, and Dumba said the NHL and Hockey Diversity Alliance vow to stand up for justice and fight for what is right. The address also went viral on social media, with some of the response negative.
“Keep it coming,” Dumba said. “It kind of sheds a light on them and the people that follow them. Their friends, their family, can see their beliefs and how they view the world and see the negative light that they’re trying to shed on this. For all the people who have the courage in their fingertips sitting behind a keyboard, I know half the stuff you wouldn’t say to my face if I was standing right in front of you.
“All that stuff is what it is. I’ve kind of been laughing at it because I know the people that mean the most to me, all those people have reached out to me and commended me for what I’ve done, and believe in me and support that.”
When he showed up to the Wild’s practice Saturday, Dumba received hugs from everyone. He’s been sharing his efforts with his teammates and has felt love and support in the locker room.
Not only did Dumba help create the Hockey Diversity Alliance earlier this summer in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, an initiative aimed at eradicating systemic racism and intolerance in hockey, but he also launched a fundraiser to help rebuild Lake Street.
The 26-year-old remains an ambassador for Athletes Committed to Educating Students, and he was recently named the Wild’s nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. This recognition is for the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has contributed to his community.
“Everyone has just jumped right on board,” Dumba said. “It’s been awesome to see.”
Dumba also heard from other players around the league, feedback he said meant the world to him.
Players from the Oilers and Blackhawks formed a circle around Dumba, and Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse and Chicago goalie Malcom Subban both placed a hand on Dumba’s shoulder while he knelt.
Nurse said, “We’re all fighting this same fight,” and Oilers superstar Connor McDavid lauded Dumba’s speech.
“Lots of things that need to change, and obviously there’s been lots of the right steps taken,” McDavid said, “and that needs to continue to happen.”
Dumba is optimistic the Hockey Diversity Alliance and NHL will keep working together.
That’s what he feels it will take to make a change in hockey and the world.
“We’ve got to partner with each other and find a way that we can reach the youth and grassroots programs,” Dumba said, “because I think that’s both of our main focus.”
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)