Akim Aliu published a piece about his experience with racism in hockey earlier this week in the Players' Tribune. It struck a chord with Ryan Miller.
"I hope that we can all listen and be active participants in the change that is needed," the Anaheim Ducks goalie tweeted.
What sort of change is needed?
"Well, I don't think I can speak on any of [that] other than to say I value learning and a way to learn is to listen," Miller told TSN. "I think that this whole issue revolves a lot around education. That's what I really wanted to get across. Akim said something, we should be listening. That's the most important thing to do in the moment. Right now, it's about support and listening."
Miller followed Aliu's story back in November when the former National Hockey League player went public with accusations about how Bill Peters used racial slurs when he coached him in 2009 with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Miller knew the broad strokes, but after reading the details he started to think about his own life.
"In the piece, Akim talked more about his family and your perspective definitely changes when you have kids," Miller said. "I picture my own son going through something similar. My wife is Indian American and...I just pictured my son going through a moment where he felt terrible and not even necessarily based on race, but I just pictured him living with that and then having the feeling that I don't want people to feel that way. So, that's why I said we should listen to what he has to say and be supportive."
In his piece, Aliu noted that conversations about "the racism, misogyny, bullying and homophobia that permeates the culture of hockey" aren't enjoyable to hear and only seem to be sparked after specific incidents come up.
"I want to encourage true, open and honest discussion about what is happening in and around our game," Aliu wrote this week.
Miller wants to help keep the dialogue going.
"We have to understand that people walk through life on different paths," Miller said. "It's important to know that things do happen in this world outside of our understanding and gaining an understanding is going to help us learn and be better as a community. I hope the conversation moves forward."
Considering his experience and perspective, Miller's voice is an important one in the league. But a couple months shy of his 40th birthday, Miller isn't sure if he's played his last game in the NHL. He spoke to TSN via Zoom and outlined concerns about returning to game action in the age of COVID-19. The Michigan native also spoke about what he's doing to help those in need.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Through the Steadfast Foundation, you've launched an auction featuring some of your game-worn gear to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. How did this come together?
"When everything kind of broke open with the pandemic and hockey went on pause, the Anaheim Ducks did a great job of helping in the community. Actually our team, within the first week, we had conversations about how to help in different areas and the Samuelis, ownership, stepped up and helped in a big way with all the employees. Everyone put up money to pay for meals for doctors, nurses, people who are on the front lines, so that’s been going on for a little while. Guys did a great job with that and it led me to think, you know, what else should we be focusing on? My thoughts went to the people who are going to become more vulnerable because of the economic impact that is undoubtedly coming. Vulnerable people will be searching for help for their families and food for their families so we're raising money for food banks, two in Buffalo and one in Anaheim, communities that are close to my heart. I always think that the best way to do something is to start a conversation, because it goes beyond just putting money in that direction. It puts more of a focus on what other people in the community can do to help."
There is everything from pads, skates, pants, bags, sticks available in this auction. Hockey fans enjoy talking about gear, right?
"A good way to start a conversation is to do something a little bit different, a little bit interesting and I was thinking, well, I got a lot of equipment that is going to see a storage room or be stuck in a bag for a number of years and maybe someone would appreciate it. So, it can go to something better and help with this conversation about the people who need help."
Was there any piece of equipment that was hard to give up?
"It's hard to let go of those old Buffalo pads with the CCM, Reebok style. They can't make them anymore. I actually had to stop wearing them. They discontinued that pad completely because they sold all the machines used to make them. So, I had to switch at some point, but I really loved that pad and I still have a set that I wore at the Olympics in 2010 and I'll hang onto that version. But I had a few sitting around and so we put one of those up. I have never made a mask available, but we did a private sale to a collector. I will talk a little more about that when everything is finalized, but we were able to raise $10,000 for the food banks. So, we're moving a lot of gear out the door."
What mask are you parting with?
"It was one of the Vancouver masks. I have a hard time parting with masks, because they're very personal. I've given a few away to some of the trainers in Buffalo and ownership in Buffalo, but everything else I've kind of held on to. I have a nice little collection and they’re important to me."
What's your favourite mask?
"I always liked my Buffalo mask. I thought it was nice. I had a design that we came up with when I entered the league and let that evolve and it became who I was on the ice. I always liked that about wearing that mask. The Olympic masks were also fun, people responded to those and I enjoyed wearing them."
You've been promoting the auction on a new Instagram account. Have you been using Instagram more during the pandemic?
"Not as much as Twitter, but I'm getting caught up. My wife [actress Noureen DeWulf] told me that you have to get into this. I've had Instagram for a while, but it was just personal stuff for family. I'm trying to focus more on participating in the world we have right now, because we're all sort of stuck indoors for the most part. It seemed like another thing I could be doing to help with the auction or even connect with hockey fans, because it's been tough not going to the rink or playing games, but we still like to have that connection and feel like we're part of the game so that’s something I want to do."
The Ducks season is likely over. What do you make of the proposed 24-team format being considered to finish the year and award the Stanley Cup?
"It's not a fun morning hearing that kind of news. I was holding out hope that there'd be something [else], but it does seem like the smartest thing to do is to push this out just a little bit further to make sure there is a testing infrastructure in place and get the right format in so we can kind of put a cap on the season. I feel like it's always going to be remembered for this strange moment we find ourselves in, but putting some kind of cap on it and hopefully finishing will be important to hockey so we can have a Stanley Cup champion and then look toward next season."
I know you've said you still have the desire to play, but how much will the coronavirus factor into whether you return next season or retire?
"We're in a new world so it's going to factor in. Everyone's going to be affected by this no matter how they think. Think it could get better overnight? It's not going to happen. We have to be realistic, it is going to change the landscape and the way we do things so I'm going to have to weigh in when I can actually see what the landscape looks like. We don't even know what next year can look like, because we haven't gotten through this year so that's why it's important and I'm hopeful they can put a cap on this season so that they can start looking ahead."
You have a young family, what factors will you consider when you weigh the decision about returning for the next NHL season?
"That's a hard one. Testing makes you feel a little bit better, but doesn't really tell you the whole picture. I mean, you can be exposed at any moment and with so few defences against this unique form of the virus, it's hard to imagine that it's going to be completely safe. I'm optimistic that they will put everything in place that they can and I'm hopeful that they can do something, but I don't think anything is 100 per cent. So, I hope everyone's going to be stepping into this cautiously because people are truly being affected by this. I'm fortunate that my family hasn't been directly affected, but it is kind of a scary thing to think about."
What have you learned being around John Gibson the last few seasons?
"It’s been great to get to know John. I’m kind of sad, because during this whole time he became a new father and it would've been nice to participate a little bit more in that. Getting to know him and sitting beside him for so long, you know, telling stories about my experience as a father it would’ve been great to get to know his experience as a father more than just little text messages. He's sent me some of the pictures and I wanted to see the cheeks on the baby...I'm sorry I’m missing out on that moment with him."
What's fatherhood like in the age of COVID-19 for you?
"It's not very different. You're just searching for things to do and I think mom and dad at that age are always a kid's close friend, but I really feel bad because kids are missing out on their social experiences and missing out on their other friends. Bodhi’s been great about it. He's actually shown great maturity with it. We talk to him about things and he understands, but you can tell there are moments where he really wants to play with another kid. We go for walks or we go down to do other things that are open and you can see him looking and thinking, 'I know I’m not supposed to, but I would really like to.' So, it's about coming up with things to do and trying to stay positive. We're not trying to hide anything from him. We're telling him how serious everything is so he has that resolve and he's aware of what's happening."