Matt Dumba and Darnell Nurse praised the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, but the two NHL players stressed Wednesday that the trial’s verdict is only one step in combating systemic racism in society.
“I do feel that there is an underlying sense of optimism that comes along with the verdict of the trial yesterday, but I also know the work that has to be put in at the ground level, how we need to be leaders in our communities,” said Dumba, a Minnesota Wild defenseman. “I think it’d be a huge opportunity lost if we didn’t take advantage of that optimism and the circumstances that made me [feel] so freely to talk about what is wrong with systemic racism in our community, the police brutality that happened in our backyard.”
Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 while in police custody. Chauvin had his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, and Floyd told officers “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times.
“That was a good step in the right direction and there’s still a ton of work to be done with regards to systemic racism, with regards to equality throughout the world,” Nurse, an Edmonton Oilers defenseman, said of the verdict. “We all sat and watched during a lot of down time and saw a man get murdered in the video. To see that the jury saw it that way and the way the prosecution fought for everyone, as a person of color, as a Black man, there was definitely a sense of relief to see that he was found guilty.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Oilers called the verdict “an important step toward systemic change, healing and meaningful community engagement.”
The statement mentioned Dumba delivering an impassioned speech denouncing systemic racism and kneeling at center ice before a national television audience prior to the Oilers facing the Chicago Blackhawks on Aug. 1 in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Edmonton. Nurse and Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban placed their hands on Dumba’s shoulders as he knelt during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We witnessed the powerful statements made by our Darnell Nurse, Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, [Vegas Golden Knights forward] Ryan Reaves along with countless others as hosts of last season’s NHL Hub and we will continue to do our part in the fight against racism, injustice and bigotry,” the Oilers statement said. “While yesterday’s verdict was an important milestone, we know that actions will forever be louder than words and the path to equality should be a shared one regardless of our color.”
When asked what needs to be done to promote equality, Nurse said, “It’s a question I’ve tried to tackle myself and see how I can help. When you look around the world, it’s about equal representation. You look at workplaces around the world. The times of being a candidate or being qualified for a role no matter where it is within business, within sports, it’s come to a point where skin color and the look of someone needs to become obsolete. It needs to get to the point where we’re all treated on an equal playing field. That’s one of the first steps, but it’s easier said than done. Yesterday was a step in the right direction, but it can’t be a sense of contentment. We need to continue to push forward.”
Dumba has been active regarding racial and social justice issues. He is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group of current and former NHL players of color that formed after Floyd’s death to fight racism and help make hockey more diverse and inclusive at all levels.
In September, he was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, presented to the player or players who best exemplify leadership qualities on and off the ice and have made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in their communities, for his charitable work in helping Minneapolis rebuild after protests following Floyd’s death.
Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon said he hopes the Chauvin verdict will lead to sustained conversations.
“Like Matt said, it’s just been a year, and it’s unfortunate that this is what it’s come to for everyone to realize that the conversation that needs to be had and the change that need to be going on for us to think,” Spurgeon said. “Now that it’s out there and everyone’s talking about it more, that’s a start, but there’s still so much work to be done. Just to be able to be able to push forward and be able to speak about it freely and have everyone talking about it and not feel like it’s something that you have to push under the rug.”