Sharks prospect Jasper Weatherby knelt in protest of racial injustice in the United States and across the globe during the national anthem Wednesday ahead of the University of North Dakota's season opener against Miami (Ohio).
Weatherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker, both of whom are white and alternate captains on the Fighting Hawks, are believed to be the first Division I men's hockey players to kneel during "The Star-Spangled Banner." Late last month, several University of New Hampshire women's hockey players took a knee during the anthem ahead of a game against Boston College.
"We believe racial injustices and the treatment of minorities and people of color in this country needs to stop, and it needs to be improved all over America and all over the world," Weatherby told the Grand Forks Herald's Brad Elliott Schlossman on Tuesday.
"For us, being able to have a platform in a place where there aren't a lot of people of color in hockey or in Grand Forks, it's a really interesting position for us to be in. It's a great platform. At the end of the day, we want UND to be a safe place. As athletes who do have a platform, we stand with our brothers and sisters of color."
Weatherby told San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called him earlier Wednesday to offer support.
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker are members of the University of North Dakota's Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity Group, and Weatherby is the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's player representative in college hockey's social issues task force. Along with another North Dakota teammate, the two attended a Black Lives Matter march after George Floyd, a 45-year-old Black man, died in Minneapolis Police custody on Memorial Day.
The pair told Schlossman their plan was to kneel for one game. Weatherby and Bernard-Docker screened a documentary on Floyd's death during a team movie night, as well as a film on the history of systemic racism in the United States. The team, Weatherby said, also is working on an initiative to encourage fans of color to attend games when spectators are again allowed.
"We're not major stars like a LeBron James or a Serena Williams," Weatherby, whom the Sharks selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL draft, said. "We're walking the streets of Grand Forks. We're paying rent like everyone else. We're driving average cars. For us, our hope is that we can spark a conversation.
"This goes beyond being Canadian or American. It's deeper than nationality. No matter your background, no matter your race, you have the right to be treated equally. That's the human right we are fighting for and trying to bring to light."
Systemic racism has been apparent in hockey and on North Dakota's campus, both of which are overwhelmingly white. The Hockey Diversity Alliance, co-founded and led by Sharks winger Evander Kane, was formed by current and former Black NHL players to address the former earlier this year in the aftermath of Floyd's death. The group played a vital role in the NHL postponing games in protest of the Kenosha, Wisc. police shooting of Jacob Blake, while North Dakota's Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity Group is in its second year trying to create "an inclusive and welcoming campus environment" at the university.
Still, the campus has been rocked by racism this year. Last month, incoming freshman Mitchell Miller, who is white, was kicked off the men's hockey team a day after the Arizona Coyotes renounced his rights after reporting in the Arizona Republic revealed he racially and physically abused a developmentally disabled Black classmate in the eighth grade.
"Everyone realizes what he did was not right," Bernard-Docker said. "At the same time, what me and Jasper are trying to do is change peoples' perspectives a little bit. So, hopefully, Mitchell can realize what he did was wrong and correct it and move forward."
Demonstrating for racial justice runs in Weatherby's family. His grandmother, Ann Macrory, was a civil rights lawyer. She attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965. Ralph Temple, his grandfather, worked for Thurgood Marshall on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and with Martin Luther King Jr. Temple, who was Jewish, fled the Nazi bombardment of London to the United States when he was a child.
Lucinda Weatherby, Jasper's mother, protested apartheid at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. as a teenager. She also convinced her high school to divest from companies that had ties to the country. Kevin Weatherby, Jasper's adopted older brother, is Black. Jasper told Schlossman in September that hearing his father warn his brother about the perils of making a solo, cross-country drive as a Black man was a formative experience.
"Our dad is such a good dad and cares so much that he thinks about those things," he recalled. "But it's messed up that he has to say that. That hit home for me. I thought, 'How am I going to help this? Am I going to do something more?' "