J.T. Brown: Why I raised my fist
On Oct. 7, 2017, I had a choice. I could shut up and play hockey, or I could do something so loud that the entire hockey community would hear me. Nothing will ever get accomplished if we all keep our heads down and our mouths shut. So, during the national anthem in Sunrise, Florida, I raised my fist to protest police brutality and racism. The same fist that got arenas to their feet while I exchanged blows with outweighed opponents. The same fist that shattered from blocking a shot during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The same fist that has given countless daps to Black and Hispanic kids in the community while teaching them how to play hockey. I have always sacrificed for my team, for the fans, for my community. In 2017 I had an opportunity to sacrifice for something bigger than hockey, and I knew that I needed to do it.
While everyone was focused on making the team out of camp or getting ready for the season to start, I was being asked by media if I was going to protest during the national anthem. I was already feeling the pressure that comes with a contract year, and now I needed to decide if I was willing to do something uncomfortable and uncharacteristic for my sport. I'm an in-and-out-of-the-lineup guy who has just enough grit to stick around the fourth line. I knew I was replaceable. I knew protesting could make it even harder to get another contract next season. My family and I were prepared for this to end my NHL career. I had decided that I was comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Hockey is played predominantly by affluent white males and conforming to a team mentality that is ingrained from a young age. My entire professional career, I have been one of 30 something Black hockey players in the League. For most of my whole hockey career, I have been the only Black person or person of color on my team. It is an experience that can leave you feeling like the token Black guy. An experience that makes you hyperaware of your Blackness, questioning whether or not you are acting too Black or too white. Understanding where and how you fit in can be lonely and it fundamentally shapes you as a person. I will be honest, most of the time, we're all just teammates. We joke, we play videogames, we play cards, and we bet on the football game. Then there are times when I'm the only player asked by arena security for my credentials when I'm just trying to get to my locker room. Or when I'm asked by hotel security to leave the hockey players alone and leave the hotel lobby when I'm just waiting with my teammates for our bus. Let's not forget the classic line that every Black hockey player knows too well, "go play basketball," which I heard during a hockey game at the highest level from an opposing player. I worked hard my whole life to prove that I belong in the NHL, and when I made it, I was still reminded that I was a Black man playing a white sport.