Sharks’ Joel Ward Might Become First NHL Player To Kneel During Anthem

NFL players’ protests against racial inequality might make it to the NHL this season.

Many NFL players have been kneeling during the national anthem after quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the protest last season to bring awareness to racial injustice and police brutality. Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to take part Saturday, and another Bay Area athlete, San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward, is considering joining, too.

“It’s definitely something I wouldn’t cross out,” Ward told the San Jose Mercury News recently. “I’ve experienced a lot of racism myself in hockey and on a day-to-day occurrence. I haven’t really sat down to think about it too much yet, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to it.”

The racial divide in hockey is huge, as Ward is one of around 30 black players in the NHL. Just 27.2 percent of players last season were American, with many of them coming from predominantly white countries. Ward, who was born in Canada to Barbadian immigrants, said he’s faced racism in the sport since he first began playing youth hockey in Toronto, where other kids yelled racial slurs at him.

“I had no clue what the words meant until my parents educated me about what was going on in my surroundings,” Ward told the Mercury News. “I was just a kid who fell in love with the game and picked up a hockey stick. I didn’t really look at it as color.

“As I got older and looked across the locker rooms and dressing rooms, I realized I’m the only black kid in the whole arena. I’ve experienced racism as a kid, as an adult. I think I’ll always experience it.”

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, general manager Doug Wilson and captain Joe Pavelski all are behind Ward, who says he’s faced discrimination in Canada and the United States. And for Ward, it’s important for people to understand what the protest really means.

“It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that,” Ward said. “It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever.”

Thumbnail photo via Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports Images

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