Ahead of Saturday’s game against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised his fist during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. For Brown, one of the few black players in the NHL, it was his way to join the public protests that have permeated sporting events throughout North America and his way to call attention to police brutality and inequality facing minorities.
“I wanted to do something to show my support,” Brown, a native of Burnsville, Minn., said post-game, per the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith. “There are some issues that we have to talk about. In my mind, I’m just trying to bring a little more awareness and any conversation we can get started would be great.”
Brown raising his right fist wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, however. Brown, 27, said he discussed the gesture with his teammates, who knew about and supported his decision, and he had previously done so during a Sept. 28 pre-season game against the Panthers. In addition, Brown made the conscious decision to raise his fist instead of taking a knee or sitting during the anthem as athletes in other sports have done. Brown told Smith ahead of opening night that the raised fist is something he chose to do after speaking with active military members and his family.
Even having previously raised his fist, though, Brown said post-game on Saturday that he was expecting to face “negative backlash” for joining in the protests that began with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and have since spread to other leagues. What Brown has seen in the wake of his raised first Saturday evening, though, goes well beyond criticism of his decision to join fellow athletes.
In a Twitter post on Sunday afternoon, Brown said he has “received racist remarks and death threats” for raising his fist. Wrote Brown: “My (mentions) on Twitter alone prove why this topic must be talked about. I have received racist remarks and death threats because they disagree with how I chose to raise awareness. We need to be able to listen to those with an opposing view and talk to one another if we want to learn, grow, and make change.”
In his message, Brown noted that this is not about disrespecting the military, nor is it about protesting the United States’ flag. “It is about police brutality, racial injustice, and inequality in this country,” Brown wrote. “It is something that I as well as many others feel needs to be addressed. I love my country, but that doesn’t mean I cannot acknowledge that it is not perfect. In my life, I have been through more than my fair share of racism both on and off the ice. There comes a time when you cannot remain silent, hoping and wishing for change. It takes much more.”
While no other black NHL player has kneeled, sat or raised his fist for the anthem, Brown isn’t the first to speak publicly about the protests. In late September, as the regular season drew near and the anthem protests increased in the NFL, San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward took to Twitter and released his own statement after being asked repeatedly if he would take part. Ward, who is Canadian, said he fully supported the decision of everyone who sits, kneels or otherwise protests during the anthem, but would not himself join them.
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