There's something of a sea change happening in the NHL at the moment, as players who have been notoriously apolitical come forward to talk about issues of race and social injustice.
Over the past few days, many white players have shared statements on social media over the death of George Floyd. They've candidly admitted their shortcomings on issues of race and vowed to learn more. Black players, especially Evander Kane, have stepped up consistently in the wake of this tragedy and done the hard work of advocating for their sport to address racial and social inequality.
Still, there's a long way to go and if white NHL players are committed to real change, they'll read and learn from the words of Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler.
After posting his own thoughts about Floyd's killing on his Twitter feed, Wheeler spoke to reporters over Zoom on Tuesday afternoon and went more in depth on his commitment to being a better ally to black communities.
#NHLJets captain Blake Wheeler on the role white players like himself can play to help combat racism:pic.twitter.com/phpPgoELa3— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeAthletic)June 2, 2020
"We have to. We have to be as involved in this as black athletes. It can't just be their fight. ... I look in the mirror about this before I look out at anyone else. I wish that I was more involved sooner than I was. I wish that it didn't take me this long to get behind it in a meaningful way," Wheeler said. "But what I guess you can do is try to be better going forward. That's kind of been my position on it.
"I want to be part of the change going forward. Whether that resonates with everyone, is clearly, I'm only one person, but I do have a small platform to try to promote this and promote change."
Wheeler's comments may or may not strike a chord with others, but make no mistake, this is a massive step forward in a league that, as little as two weeks ago, could barely muster up a response to Akim Aliu's essay about the racial abuse.
Like Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Wheeler hits on some important points in his answer. Most notably, there's Wheeler's simple admission that he hasn't done enough in the past and that white athletes can no longer let their black teammates do the work of creating a more equitable society.
"I can only speak for myself," Wheeler said. "I haven't done a good enough job in the past."
I needed to say something in my own words.pic.twitter.com/VpkidaMjbX— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke)May 31, 2020
I don't think I've ever heard a white NHL player speak so candidly about these issues and take responsibility for their lack of action and public support.
As many NHL players have released statements, and uh, others have noticeably remained silent, it's clear who is willing to step up and be an active ally in the fight to end racial inequality. Some of the sports biggest stars are missing, but others, like Wheeler, have shown that they're willing to step up to lead.
Follow For The Win's Hemal Jhaveri on Twitter @hemjhaveri.