Quinn Hughes sits in his hotel room and turns on a Zoom call with Vancouver media – he’s bored, but he knows he’s doing the right thing.
The likely Calder Trophy nominee has recently returned from the United States and is completing his required 14-day quarantine for the novel coronavirus. While questions are pelted at him, there’s one that stands out, one that shows the character of the young American.
“Have you been following the news in the U.S. with the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the coronavirus?” says Patrick Johnston, a Postmedia reporter.
Political questions aren’t the type that NHL players, let alone rookies, are used to being asked, but for Hughes, he has no second thoughts.
“Being home, my parents have CNN on all the time, so I see what’s happening,” said Hughes. “It was disgraceful what the (police) officers did in Minnesota, but I think it was important that people did that (protested) and expressed their feelings.”
While professional sporting ventures are not the most important thing in life, athletes often have an important voice in divided communities. Hughes recognizes his position and the need for social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. While many would back away from the subject, Hughes is not afraid to speak on the topic.
The defensemen’s July 2nd comments received a mixed reaction online with some reiterating the old-fashioned “shut up and dribble” moniker, but many applauded the former Michigan Wolverine for speaking up, a fact that is endearing him to more of the hockey community.
While Hughes is only one player, he is part of a theme with the Vancouver hockey club. Elias Petterson, who is not from the country at the epicentre of the social justice uprising, spoke of how he spent hours putting together his own statement on the issues.
In Petterson’s statement, he began with acknowledging that he’s had a very privileged life, but ended with a call to action, “We are all unique in our own way and should be treated equally and with respect. So let’s be a part of the solution, educate ourselves and help end racism.”
In the past, professional athletes have been told to “stick to sports,” but that’s not the case anymore and Hughes and Petterson are making sure hockey isn’t sitting on the bench. As NHL players, they’re in a precarious position. The league does not have many BIPOC players compared to the MLB, NFL and NBA, but it can still be an instrument for change. For Hughes and Petterson, they know that their allyship is important, not only to them, but to the betterment of the sporting community, especially on the west coast.
Vancouver does not have a team in any of the aforementioned leagues, and because of that, Hughes’ and Petterson’s outspokenness has elevated significance. With no quarterback to kneel on the touchline, no MLB player to sit in the dugout and no outspoken NBA player, it’s only hockey and the Canucks’ stance on the issues are critical to change.
With social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement in the thoughts of the two youngsters, they also realize the importance of their quarantine in a region that has been one of the world’s best at handling the novel coronavirus outbreak. In the J.W Marriot rather than their apartments, Hughes and Petterson make sure not to go near each other, and while both speak of their boredom, their diligence has not faltered. The two have been able to get onto Rogers Arena ice, but even there, they talk about the importance of following the rules.
Quinn Hughes and Elias Petterson are unlike hockey players of past eras. They’re outspoken on issues once thought to be untouchable for athletes and the pair realize their importance to a community reeling with the current state of the world. The youngsters know they’ve got a shot at the Stanley Cup, but they also know the power and importance of sport in society.