Ryan Reaves knew what he was going to do. The question was whether he’d be doing it alone.
Matt Dumba did. When he raised his fist for the American and Canadian national anthems before Game 1 of the Minnesota Wild’s qualifying-round series against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday night, no other teammate took part. Asked about it in a conference call Monday, Wild coach Dean Evason said, "Nope, there's been no discussions, and the only thing that we've discussed as a staff – as I've mentioned before – is that we want to eliminate racism for good."
But the situation played out differently for Reaves, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars before their round-robin tilt Monday night. Reaves had a kneeling partner on his own team in goaltender Robin Lehner, who was determined to make a statement against racism in America as a way of, in his mind, atoning for some previous pro-Donald Trump political statements he made via his mask artwork a few years ago.
"I did the mistake once, put the Trump sticker on my mask, something I regret now, seeing how divisive things have been," Lehner said via Zoom conference call Monday. "But at the end of the day, this is not politics. This is human rights. It’s not about politics. Everyone’s talking about conversation and education and listening, but it’s time to start doing something, not just let this be a news cycle and forget about it and do it all over again. Everyone should have the same chance in society. Everyone should be treated the same. I’ve seen a lot growing up. My family is of color, and what I’ve seen, how things are, disgusts me. At the end of the day, I love America, but there’s a bunch of things that needs to be corrected. I think they have the power to do so. It’s just about willingness to do something about it. I think it’s time for whites to step into battle with our brothers and sisters and make some change, stop just talking about it and actually do something.
Reaves made the decision to kneel Monday, making a potent statement after he'd expressed concern days earlier that he worried taking a knee would make his teammates uncomfortable. Speaking on the Zoom call Monday, Reaves was adamant his kneeling was not about disrespecting the American flag.
"I have the utmost respect for everybody that’s gone over and fought and died for the freedom of this country," Reaves said. "Bill Foley our owner is one of the best guys I’ve ever met, and he’s a military guy. So that’s not the message I’m trying to send. But at the same time, those people go across seas, and they go to war, and families are torn apart in these wars for the freedom of this country only to come back and find out this country isn’t free for everybody. That’s where I’m coming from. Not everybody is truly free in this country."
So the two Golden Knights teammates were ready to express themselves, but Reaves had a hunch he’d have at least one ally on the other team in Tyler Seguin. Among white NHLers, the Stars’ No. 1 center has become the most vocal and active supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, attending a protest in June after the death of George Floyd, so if anyone would be open to kneeling, it was him.
“I talked to Reaves in warmups, and he said he’s been seeing what I’ve been doing in Dallas, and he said him and Lehner were going to kneel and if I’d like to join them,” Seguin said Monday via Zoom call. “I said 'Absolutely,' so I joined them. So before the game, I went in the dressing room and just told (my team) what I was doing. I said there was absolutely no pressure to do anything.
That’s when center Jason Dickson approached Seguin.
“Dickinson grabbed me and said he’d like to be part of it and support his beliefs and my beliefs and support me as a teammate, and it was great to have him there as well," Seguin said.
It was a natural choice for Dickinson, too, as the movement is a personal one for him.
“I’ve got some people of color in my family, my dad comes from the islands, and one of my uncles is black, so it was easy for me – easy decision,” Dickinson said. “I’ve been thinking about it since everything started, if I would do that. And I was probably nervous to think about doing it on my own, and when ‘Seggy’ said it, it was a no-brainer for me that I wouldn’t be alone doing it – and to support the cause and support my teammates.”
So were the white men who joined Reaves motivated by watching Dumba, who is half Filipino, standing up for the cause alone the previous night?
“Yeah, there was some influence with that,” Seguin said. “Nothing against his teammates or anything like that. Everyone’s got their own choices. I don’t think that means anyone doesn’t support him. But definitely being two white guys, to do what we did, I wanted to be a part of that movement if there was an opportunity. I can’t say honestly I was going to go out there on my own and take a knee, but with them having a black player on their team, and his beliefs, and how I’ve said from Day 1, I’m going to back it up in ways that I can…that’s why I chose to support that and why I’m very proud 'Dickie' did, for standing up and doing what he believes as well.”
Monday, then, was a big step for the NHL. Does taking a knee solve the problem of racism? Obviously not. But it tells people of color that they’re not alone. And in Seguin’s case, it’s just the beginning. As he stated Monday, before Reaves approached him, he’d already been thinking about what steps he’ll take for the BLM movement once Dallas’ season ends and he exits the Edmonton bubble.
So Reaves’ Golden Knights won on the ice Monday – and a couple Stars scored a big figurative win by showing their support for Reaves' cause.