By Carol Schram
Ryan Reaves has a well-earned reputation as the most fearsome enforcer in today’s NHL. But last August, the Golden Knights winger let his emotions show as he wrestled with the decision to follow in the footsteps of athletes in other leagues who had suspended play in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
“Last night, I struggled with what I wanted to do,” said Reaves. “Am I really going to walk out on my team and be the only guy, or is there going to be a couple guys?
“But I woke up to a text from Kevin Shattenkirk, and he had a bunch of guys out East there, and they wanted to talk. And then I got a text saying Vancouver wanted to talk.
“I think it was more powerful, that the conversation started with white players on other teams willing to talk.”
Early in the NHL’s return to play in Edmonton, Reaves was joined by his teammate Robin Lehner along with Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson of the Dallas Stars, as the quartet knelt for the Canadian and American national anthems.
On Aug. 27, the players from all eight remaining playoff teams chose to postpone their games by two days to add their voices to the other athletes protesting Blake’s shooting and support Black Lives Matter. In Edmonton, more than 100 players squeezed into the press conference room in a show of solidarity.
“I think if you look around this room, there's a lot of white athletes in here, and I think that's the statement that's being made right now," Reaves said. “It's great that the NBA did this and the MLB, WNBA; they have a lot of Black players in those leagues. But for all these athletes in here to take a stand and say, ‘We see the problem, too, and we stand behind you;’ I'd go to war with these guys. I hate their guts on the ice, but I couldn't be more proud of these guys.”
While standing against racial injustice, Reaves, whose mother is white and whose father, CFL legend Willard Reaves, is black, made it clear that he means no disrespect to law enforcement, to which he has a personal connection. When his father retired from football, he returned to Winnipeg and became a sergeant with Manitoba Sheriff Services. Willard and Ryan are also descended from the first black U.S. Marshall in the nation’s history.
Reaves joined Vegas at the 2018 trade deadline. Prior to his arrival, the Knights had forged a bond with local first responders at their first home game, paying powerful tribute just nine days after the mass shooting that left 60 people dead and hundreds more injured.
When Reaves and his fellow players took their stand in August, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association pushed back.
“It appears, to my law enforcement brothers and sisters, that the Golden Knights would rather jump on the bandwagon of attacking the police profession rather than waiting for the facts of an event to be brought to light,” wrote the group’s president, police officer Steve Grammas.
Said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer: “I can tell you – the guys in the room, the amount of respect they have for what those men and women do every day. Hopefully, that isn’t misinterpreted.”
Later, Grammas wrote a second letter to the union, reporting that Golden Knights majority owner Bill Foley had expressed appreciation for their work. Meanwhile, a group of 17 other local community organizations issued a statement thanking local sports organizations, including the Golden Knights, for bringing attention to social injustice.