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“This is not politics. It’s human rights.” — Golden Knights and Stars kneel during National Anthems prior to round robin game

Vegas and Dallas players took part in representing their feelings toward systemic racism.

Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights - Game One Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Ryan Reaves contemplated taking a knee prior to Monday.

It was something he heavily considered before the Vegas Golden Knights played the Arizona Coyotes in their exhibition game on Thursday. Taking a knee has become a symbolic representation of those who oppose police brutality and systemic racism.

But Reaves held back from taking a knee because he didn’t want any of his teammates to feel uncomfortable if they wanted to do something as a team. Instead, the Golden Knights and Coyotes locked arms during the anthems.

Vegas Golden Knights v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

“I know that if I said I wanted everybody to kneel, somebody, at least one guy, was going to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want that,” Reaves said Saturday. “This was the best way to be able to include everybody in it. Have everyone comfortable with what we were doing.”

This time, before the Golden Knights’ round robin game against the Dallas Stars on Monday, Reaves felt it was the right time. But Reaves was not going to go at it alone. Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner approached Reaves and said he would join his teammate in support.

But Lehner and Reaves would not be alone. Reaves approached Dallas center Tyler Seguin on if this was something he wanted to do, and the Stars’ leading scorer quickly obliged. The three, along with Dallas forward Jason Dickinson, took a knee along the blue line as the Star Spangled Banner and O, Canada played through Rogers Place.

“I definitely want to start by saying that in no way am I trying to disrespect the flag or people who have fought for this country. I have the utmost respect for everybody that’s gone over and fought and died for the freedom of this country,” Reaves said. “That’s not the message I’m trying to send.

“At the same time, those people go across seas and they go to war. Families are torn apart in those wars for the freedom of this country, only to come back and find out this country isn’t free for everybody. I think that’s where I’m coming from. It’s starting to come to light a lot more right now, especially with social media. It’s blowing up a lot more now.”

Reaves said he and Lehner spoke multiple times about how to go about this in an effective way, but Lehner’s decision to join Reaves was stunning in its own way. The goalie made waves in 2016 when he had a Donald Trump sticker on his mask as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

“I made the mistake once of putting the Trump sticker on my mask, something I regret now after seeing how divisive things have been,” Lehner said. “At the end of the day, this is not politics. It’s human rights. It’s not about politics. Everyone’s talking about conversation and education and listening, but it’s time to start doing something and not let this be a news cycle, forget about it and do it all over again. Everyone should have the same chance in society. Everyone should be treated the same.”

The battle for racial equality has heightened since COVID-19 ran rampant through America, beginning with George Floyd — an unarmed Black man — who was killed by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd’s death, and the death of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville in June, has sparked protests nationwide.

That call for justice has delved into the hockey world with the creation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, a coalition created by seven current and former NHL players in the call for justice, as well as eradicate “racism and intolerance in hockey.”

One of those players is Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. Dumba made an impassioned speech prior to Saturday’s Chicago Blackhawks-Edmonton Oilers game. He then took a knee during the American anthem with Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse putting their hands on his shoulders.

“During this pandemic, something unexpected but long overdue occurred. The world woke up to the existence of systemic racism and how deeply rooted it is in our society,” Dumba said Saturday. “For those unaffected by systemic racism or unaware, I’m sure some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple of months. But let me assure you, it has not. Racism is a man-made creation, and all it does is deteriorate from our collective prosperity. Racism is everywhere, and we need to fight against it.”

While Reaves said Dumba’s speech wasn’t the determining factor in wanting to kneel, it was about aiding the cause.

“We want to be united for the cause and when you see one of your brothers do that, you want to support that cause if your mission is aligned,” he said.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Lehner, whose family is of color and his wife of Persian descent, said that he wasn’t disappointed in his teammates not joining him and Reaves.

“I respect everyone’s opinion. That’s the problem with society these days. You’ve got to hate the other person because they have a different opinion than you. That’s what the problem is in this world right now,” Lehner said. “At the end of the day, everyone’s free to do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s within the law.”

Coach Peter DeBoer said the organization was in full support of Reaves and Lehner’s decision. They approached DeBoer, general manager Kelly McCrimmon and president of hockey operations George McPhee in the last 48 hours to show how much it meant to them.

“What I’ve seen and how things are, disgust me,” Lehner said. “I love America, but there’s a bunch of things that need to be corrected. I think to have the power to do so is to have the willingness to do it. I think it’s time for whites to step into battle with their brothers and sisters and make some change and stop this talk and actually do something.”