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Lightning’s J.T. Brown says he received death threats after protest

For The Win logo For The Win 10/9/2017 Hemal Jhaveri

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On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning's J.T. Brown raised his fist during the national anthem before the team's game against the Florida Panthers. In doing so, he became the first NHL player to publicly join other athletes protesting police brutality and racial inequality.

It's a bold and controversial move in a league that discourages political expression on the ice. Brown, who is one of approximately 30 black players in the NHL, had been debating speaking about these issues for a while. He'd previously raised a fist during an NHL preseason game and donated $1,500 to remove a Confederate statue in Tampa.

"Like I've said before, I wanted to do something to show my support," Brown told the Tampa Bay Times. "There's issues we have to talk about. In my mind, I'm just trying to bring a little bit more awareness and any type of conversation we could get started would be great."

In a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday afternoon, Brown gave a more detailed and moving explanation of his protest. He also revealed that his political actions had lead to death threats.

I also wanted to reiterate that this is not and has never been about the military or disrespecting the flag. It is about police brutality, racial injustice and inequality in this country. It is something that I as well as many others feel needs to be addressed. I love my country, but that doesn't mean I cannot acknowledge that it is not perfect. In my life, I have been through more than my fair share of racism both on and off the ice. There comes a time where you cannot remain silent, hoping and wishing for a change. It takes much more. We all see the world through our own eyes, but I hope that we can try and understand what others experience.

While making my decision, I prayed and asked for God to guide me and I spoke with my family. I also talked to members of the military to have an empathetic conversation about the demonstrations during the national anthem. I tried to use as much knowledge as possible to make an educated decision. I know it may not sit well with everyone, but to truly make change in this world we must be able to be pushed outside of our comfort zone. We can't just stick to the status quo. I want young minorities to see that what they may be going through is not being ignored by the hockey community.

Towards the end of his statement, Brown revealed that along with racist remarks, he's gotten death threats because of his protest.

"I have received racist remarks and death threats because they disagree with how I chose to raise awareness," he wrote.

The Tampa Bay Lightning released a statement supporting Brown. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in May that players should remain apolitical at the rink.

"I would encourage and I do encourage our players to do it on their own time. When they're showing up for work to participate in a game that people are focused on, care about, pay a lot of money to attend, then it should be all about the game. That block of time should be apolitical, and we can use our platforms to demonstrate diversity, inclusiveness, educating communities on good causes whether or not it's health or the environment. But when the game is being played, it should be about the game because that's what fans want."

Black players in the NHL already face an enormous burden in a culture that still has a ways to go before it fully embraces diversity. Think back to this heart breaking quote from the Washington Capitals'Devante Smith-Pelly about how lonely it is being the only black player on a team.

"I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there's not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you're really by yourself. I can go to Joel and say, hey - because he understands what I'm going through as a black man in America. I can't go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I'm a professional hockey player: they just don't understand. So it's really lonely in that sense. You don't really have anyone."

While Brown raising his fist may not be as bold as NFL players taking a knee, it's a big step forward in a league where players consider expressing political opinions an anathema.

"I know there's going to be negative backlash," Brown said. "But, in my heart, I know I did what was right."


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