Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, one of the most famous hockey players in a predominantly white sport, has come out to condemn racism and the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody last month in Minneapolis.
Crosby, 32, released a statement about Floyd’s death through his charitable foundation on Tuesday, amid growing pressure to speak out as the NHL’s most well-known face.
“What happened to George Floyd cannot be ignored. Racism that exists today in all forms is not acceptable,” Crosby said in the statement on Tuesday morning.
“While I am not able to relate to the discrimination that Black and minority communities face daily, I will listen and educate myself on how I can help make a difference. Together, we will find solutions through necessary dialogue and collective effort.”
The statement comes more than a week after protests broke out over the death of Floyd, the latest unarmed Black person to die following an encounter with police. Floyd died of asphyxia after a white police officer pinned him down for approximately eight minutes with a knee on his neck. “Please, I can’t breathe,” he told the officer, as video of the incident shows.
The NHL, its teams and dozens of individual players have released their own statements about Floyd over the last week. However, Crosby has faced mounting pressure to say something as the face of the league. His own team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, released a statement on Monday.
San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane, one of the few Black players in the NHL, specifically urged Crosby last Friday to say something.
“We need so many more athletes that don’t look like me to speak out about this, having the same amount of outrage that I have inside, and using that to voice their opinion, to voice their frustration,” Kane said during an appearance on ESPN’s First Take.
“It’s time for guys like Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right and, clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong,” Kane said. “Because that’s the only way we’re going to actually create … that necessary change, especially when you talk about systemic racism.”
The NHL is the least diverse of North America’s major sports leagues, with 50 or fewer of its 700 players being people of colour at a given time, according to one count. However, outspoken players of colour such as Kane and former NHLer Akim Aliu have repeatedly called for the sport to be more inclusive and aware of the racism throughout it.
Aliu published a blistering essay in The Player’s Tribune just a few days before Floyd’s death, in which he condemned the NHL’s diversity initiative called “Hockey is for Everyone.”
Aliu’s piece, titled “Hockey is not for everyone,” directly contradicts the NHL’s message. In the piece, Aliu delves into racist attitudes he faced throughout his journey to the NHL, up to and including his time playing for Bill Peters, the coach the Calgary Flames fired last year after his treatment of Aliu came to light.
“How many players speak out about any issues? Barely any,” Aliu wrote in the piece. “Everyone tiptoes around every little thing because they’re petrified about being an outcast.”
Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair, who is Black, also urged others to speak out about racism over the weekend.
“WE all have a voice, use it,” he wrote on Twitter. “No matter what your race, religion or belief you may have, you should not stay silent about social inequality.”
Several leaders on current NHL teams have since come out to offer their support for Black and minority communities.
“Times like these show we must come together to commit ourselves to anti-racism and equality for all,” Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares tweeted on Monday. He also joined the “Blackout Tuesday” movement with a tweet declaring that “Black Lives Matter.”
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews shared a powerful video that went viral last weekend, in which activist Curtis Hayes Jr. and two others discuss the frustration of being Black in a country where the system is stacked against them.
“Who am I to tell someone that their pain is not real? Especially when it is at a boiling point and impossible to hold in anymore,” Toews wrote on Instagram.
“I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears.”
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who has been compared to Crosby since they both entered the league, mourned Floyd’s death in a statement on Monday.
“RIP George Floyd,” Ovechkin wrote on Twitter. “It is so important for us to respect and love each other no matter what we look like!!!!! We need listen and do change (sic).”
Crosby hails from Cole Harbour, N.S., but he spent a year living in Minnesota while attending Shattuck St. Mary’s, a private school with a top-tier hockey program, when he was a teenager. He has largely avoided making public gestures about race or politics during his career.
In 2017, for example, Crosby and his Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins went ahead with a visit to the White House, even after the NBA champion Golden State Warriors decided to publicly skip the event because of U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump at the time was attacking NFL players for kneeling to protest police brutality against Black Americans.
The Floyd protests have occurred in cities across the U.S., including in Pittsburgh, where someone spray-painted the Communist hammer and sickle on a statue of Mario Lemieux, Crosby’s mentor, outside the Penguins’ arena.
The NHL is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.