When I was a child in school we learned about bullying. We learned that there was the bully, the victim, and the bystander(s). The third group could either be culpable in the bullying by not taking action against it even if that action was simply bringing in a person who held authority or by being supportive of the victim in another way. The NHL has far too many culpable bystanders when it comes to racism.
Akim Aliu wrote about how hockey is not for everyone and detailed his experiences with racism at various levels. From being called a racial name at age eleven to having to deal with that and more at the professional level, Aliu has seen how unwelcoming hockey is to minorities. What’s worse is those with power or access to power do not seem to care.
Bystanders are those who can speak up in support of someone. Ryan Miller and Stephen Johns spoke up, with Johns saying that “we have to do more as a hockey community” and Miller wrote “I hope that we can all listen and be active participants in the change that is needed”. It’s minor and it only highlights the silence of bigger names in the hockey world.
The silence from people including Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid amongst other marquee names is deafening and speaks volumes about how far hockey has to come before it is for everyone. If they wanted to be allies for Akim Aliu and other minority players -- if they truly thought hockey needed to change -- they would have spoken up. Instead, they are saying that the status quo works for them and that nothing needs to be changed even if the game is screaming for changes.
Silence is just as powerful as saying something is. Being allowed to remain silent means you are privileged enough to not speak up. Hockey is racist enough that a star speaking up could lead to lost fans, but if we want hockey to be for everyone speaking up against racism is making the game a better, more inclusive space. The silence is saying that racism belongs in the game because it has always been there.
In a world were we use all forms of communications to show support, few have even done that for Aliu. The silence has been louder than any words said. They might support disadvantaged youths playing hockey, but they are not allies when they ignore someone who is speaking out about their ongoing experiences. By not even offering a “this is not how hockey should be”, they are not condemning the racism. They are bystanders who are aligning with the bully. They are making it harder for the game to change.