On the heels of George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests, Evander Kane and Akim Aliu joined James Duthie to further the conversation of racism and injustice in North America as well as advocate for change in both the outside world and the culture of hockey.
Here is a transcript of their conversation:
Duthie: Evander, earlier today you tweeted Black Lives Matter. What are you hoping will be accomplished today?
Kane: Well I think first and foremost, this whole movement has been going on for a number of years. It’s taken another senseless act when it comes to murdering an innocent black man on camera for it to really capture our attention. And what I’m hoping that is finally and truly accomplished is real change and a real dialogue. And people opening up their eyes and understanding what’s been going on with the black community for hundreds of years and still to this day. And that – in terms of the right now – is what I’m hoping this message gets through to people.
Duthie: Akim, what are you experiencing right now in this time in our history?
Aliu: I mean for me, to be honest, it’s a sad time. We’re in 2020 and we’re still dealing with things that our fathers and our grandfathers and our great grandfathers – and mothers – have dealt with. I guess it’s always a good place to start somewhere. It’s sad that it’s taken this long. I’ve had floods of emotion, just thinking back on what I’ve seen in life and just what society as a whole is going through. So to be honest it’s been a tough time, there’s been a lot of sleepless nights with what’s going on and just trying to wrap your head around the situation but I feel like meaningful dialogue and accepting the real issues is a great start.
Duthie: Going to talk more in a moment about the hockey players who have spoken out. Evander, you’ve called that a small step in the right direction. What’s the next step, the big step you’d like to see?
Kane: First of all, I don’t think the first step is over yet either. I’m just talking about the NHL as players because I’m a part of that group. And we’re 700-plus players and it’s been awesome to see guys from different teams from throughout the league step up and support this cause and support me as well. I think the next step after we get past everyone realizing and understanding that there is something that needs to be fixed, I think the next step is actually having meaningful conversations on what we can do to better ourselves not only as players and as a league but as people in our communities and preventing these types of social injustices from happening.
Duthie: When Akim first spoke out in November, there were some meaningful conversations. But since then there really hasn’t been a lot of significant talk about the issues you raised Akim. Do you think out of all of this that racism in society in general and in sports more specifically that there can be a lasting ongoing conversation instead of an intermittent one that just kind of fades away?
Aliu: For sure, I’m glad you touched on that. And that’s kind of what I’ve been battling with our conversations with many of the black players and players of minority at the highest levels is are we talking about this now because there was another senseless death? Why didn’t we have all this outrage – and I’m talking specifically to our game of hockey – why didn’t we have all this outrage when I kind of came out with my story and the kind of things that Evander has been preaching? The sincerity of it from a hockey aspect of things has been tough for me to juggle in my own mind. And to touch on the players coming out, that’s my question to them as well. Is that because everyone is coming out and it’s quote-unquote comfortable now and it’s a conversation that everyone’s having, is that why we’re starting to talk about our real issues? So that’s kind of what I’ve been like I said juggling in my head. But I feel like I wish this has been taken seriously even going back to Trevor Daly’s situation. I feel like if there was a good resolution to that we wouldn’t be where we are today. So I feel like I don’t think it should have gotten to where we are now, but like I said it is a start.
Kane: I just wanted to touch on that as well and kind of follow-up on what Akim said. I totally understand his questioning of some of – and I’m not saying anybody in particular but just the sincerity of where the sense of urgency now is coming from. I think the biggest point is there’s such an old hockey culture that we are still in and it’s all about being comfortable. And I think I’ve talked about making a lot of people uncomfortable because this is the type of conversation and issue and topic that makes people uncomfortable and they don’t know how to go about it. And the best way to go about it is by educating yourself, by truly listening to what people like myself and other minorities in our league are saying and educating yourself. And I think it’s kind of follow-the-leader. We need to start taking the lead as a league and as players in our league. So that’s what I think my message has been, ever since, really, I got into the NHL. And Akim, we talk about his story that happened in late November with that coming out and then following it up with the Players’ Tribune a couple weeks ago and so on and so forth. These can’t just be 15 minutes of fame. It has to be a constant conversation because it’s happening every single day, every single year from minor hockey to the highest level.
Duthie: Myles Douglas, a Toronto teenage hockey player, told TSN he faced racism on a regular basis this past season. Akim, what do you think when you hear that?
Aliu: So that breaks my heart. That really bothers me because in my situation, we’re talking 15, 16 and 17 years ago and to know that it’s still happening today, it breaks my heart for him, for his family, for everyone else that’s going through similar situations. And I just can’t fathom and wrap my mind around how these things are still happening. But our initiative right now as players of colour and players that have platforms just to help him and other kids understand we’re behind them, we have a voice that’s speaking for them and they have something to lean forward to. Because essentially where my goal with this is I’m trying to help the future generation. It hurts me every day the fact that I couldn’t have the career that I was capable of having in the NHL because of outside circumstances and people that controlled my fate.
Duthie: Akim, what else can people do? It’s a step to send a message publicly on social media or whatever but what else can hockey players do?
Aliu: I think it starts with educating yourself. Find a way, I mean it’s 2020. Look at the history, look at what our ancestors have been through to get to where we are now. Hockey is a tough sport to sell that message to because for the most part you need to come from privilege to be able to economically play the game. But I feel like that if you take it upon yourself to learn and educate yourself on what black people and people of colour and indigenous people have been through to get to where they are now and still to be treated like this, there isn’t much more we can take. And I think it’s just come to a boiling point with what we’re seeing around the world. But I think the first step is just starting to educate yourself and just try to understand what it’s like to walk in our shoes for a day, a week or even a month. And they’ll realize that it’s not something that you want to be part of.
Duthie: You’ve become close with Colin Kaepernick, I know you spoke to him for 90 minutes just earlier today. What’s been his message to you?
Aliu: Oh man he’s been awesome. I can’t thank him enough. He’s been a source of knowledge, he’s been a source of inspiration, he’s honestly almost become family. He’s there for me. I think we get along well because we both don’t sleep. So we’re talking day and night and just to hear his insight on what he’s been through, how he handles it and how professional he is about everything, you can’t do anything but look up to him for that. And our conversation is ongoing and it’ll continue to happen and to be honest I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done and what he’s meant to me during these difficult times.
Duthie: And Evander there’s been so many athletes from so many different sports speaking out. Have you spoken to them? Can this be not just a hockey effort but some sort of collective multi-sport effort going forward?
Kane: Yeah, I actually had the opportunity to speak to Kaepernick as well yesterday. Not as long as Akim but just for a short little period of time. And you know there’s tons of different athletes that I’ve obviously had the opportunity to meet throughout the course of my career and a lot of them are black. People try to say that this is a black issue but it’s not a black issue, it’s a humanity issue. It’s not something that we caused, right? We all feel this type of way. And it’s up to us, what we’re trying to do is spread our message and our thoughts and ideas so that we can get other white people to understand what’s still going on and how it makes us feel walking into a room full of 20 white guys and you’re the only black guy. I put the question to people like this: If Logan Couture – and I’ll just use him because he’s a teammate – walked into a dressing room where there was 20 black guys he’d probably feel a little different than walking into the dressing room today. And I’ve been out in certain areas going out on the road and you go to a black club that’s predominantly black you know and I’m with my teammates, it’s funny how I’ve seen them very uncomfortable. It’s a culture change. And that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s what we live and that’s what people in the black community live in every single day.
Duthie: These have been destructive times and before I let you go I want to ask both of you, do you think something constructive will come out of this? I’ll start with Akim.
Aliu: James, I hope so. I think people have hoped something constructive would have come out during the times of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and we have come a long way and thanks to our ancestors. But we have a long way to go. I do feel like this is the first time in a long time where people are really understanding that race is a problem in our society. And I don’t know if it’s because of the leadership in America and the tone that is set with some of the decision making from the highest of the highs, but it’s a time for a reckoning and I feel like the time is now and I’m truly hopeful that this is a time where we really understand what people of colour have been going through for hundreds of years and just become as one. And we love each other just for being human beings on this earth together.
Kane: I have to agree with Akim on a lot of his points. I’m optimistic that this isn’t going to be another footnote or another incident when it comes to racism and hockey and society. It’s unfortunate that more events have transpired with a man being murdered on national television essentially. And that incident creating a tone that people were just fed up with. And I think it’s resonated with a lot of different communities, it’s resonated with a lot of different entities and in hockey and hopefully this won’t just be another footnote and we’ll continue to push this topic and this issue and be better for it and make our sport a lot more inclusive in a real way.