Although I am a California man, I love hockey and have ever since I was a kid, transistor radio hidden beneath my pillow so I could listen to California Golden Seals game. I was devastated when during my high school years the Seals first moved to Cleveland and then “merged with” (translation: disappeared into) the then Minnesota North Stars, now the Dallas Stars. I was beyond ecstatic when the San Jose Sharks came to be, and have faithfully followed them since.

Joel Ward is a veteran forward on the Sharks and one of the regrettably few black players in the National Hockey League. A couple of days ago he said he might join in on the current spate of whatever you want to call it sweeping the sports world. He then demonstrated why you should love hockey even if you hate sports:

He put thought into the matter. Quote:

Over the last several days, I have been asked if I would consider kneeling during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. It’s something I have spent a lot of time thinking about.

As a black man, I have experienced racism both inside and outside of the sporting world. I have been pulled over by law enforcement for no reason. I have been looked at suspiciously because of the color of my skin.

I hold an immense amount of respect for the many players – across the sporting world – that have chosen to peacefully bring attention to a couple of big issues in today’s society, which are inequality and the use of excessive force against people of color in the United States of America. Make no mistake that racism exists and that people of color are treated differently on a day-to-day basis.

I also feel that the original message that was trying to be communicated has been lost. The focus has shifted to the act of the kneeling itself or to a protest of the flag itself or the military. What are we really talking about here?

I feel extremely lucky to be able to play this great game of hockey, but even within our own game, we can treat each other better than we currently do at all levels of the sport. There is still progress to be made.

And that’s where I want everyone to re-focus their attention – on moving progress forward. We need to be working on bridging the gap between people of all color, and between law enforcement and minorities. How can we be a part of the solution and not part of the problem – or be another distraction from what the real issues are?

Although I fully support those who before me have taken the lead in bringing awareness to these issues, I will not kneel during the national anthem like my brothers have done.

But now that I have the world’s attention, let’s meet at the kitchen table, the locker room or in the stands and continue the healing process. Let our collective focus be on bridging the gap between communities – on working to heal generations of unequal treatment of people of color in the United States of America – and not turning our backs on that which is hard to face head on.

I will continue to work within my community to help improve the lives of others, and I intend to partner with groups dedicated to bridging racial inequality and fostering a better relationship between law enforcement and people of all color.

If we spend more time talking about these real issues instead of the actions that are taking place in an attempt to raise awareness about them, we will be a much richer and stronger society.

Joel Randal Ward

“I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it, and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.” – Jackie Robinson

It’s something for both sides to think about. And act upon.

Thank you, Joel. And LET’S GO SHARKS!