Jason Zucker forced himself to watch the video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last week. He felt it was important to see it with his own eyes.
“I was disgusted,” said Zucker, a popular, former Minnesota Wild forward who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February. “I couldn’t believe what I was watching.”
Which he admits is part of the problem. The fact that he couldn’t fathom the police brutality that took Floyd’s life, he said, speaks to his privilege.
“I’m not naive to the fact that I’m a white male who doesn’t have to face these issues,” Zucker said. “I realize that. I’ll never be able to fully understand what the black community has to go through. But I want to be a part of the change by drawing awareness to it and being at the forefront of these conversations moving forward.”
He took a step in the right direction Monday night, voicing his support for the black community in a strong statement he posted on his personal Twitter account.
While various athletes have released vanilla statements in the past week, Zucker took a firm stance. He called out racism and inequality, committed to donating to minority businesses impacted by the protests, and used the words “Black Lives Matter” in closing.
“I don’t want to tip-toe around things,” Zucker said. “It’s pretty easy to see right through people who are doing that.”
He educated himself over the past week before making his statement. He also confronted the fact that he wasn’t vocal in his support former Wild teammate J.T. Brown, who is black, and has been very vocal about bringing awareness to the issues of police brutality.
“Just being supportive silently isn’t enough,” Zucker said. “You have to be able to truly stand behind a guy like J.T. Brown and help in any way possible. I wish I would’ve done more to help him when he was my teammate. We were texting about that the other day when I made my statement. Now it’s about making sure that change happens.”
That will require more players — white players, to be specific — using their platform to make a difference.
While this is as loud as the NHL has ever been in regards to racism — a movement started by San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane after he appeared on ESPN’s First Take last week and called out star Sidney Crosby by name — it’s still not enough as far as Zucker is concerned.“I wish more people would speak up,” Zucker said. “I think some guys are afraid to say the wrong thing.”
That silence could also stem from the culture around a sport that has long discouraged anybody from bringing attention to themselves. It’s about the team more than anything else; anybody who feels differently is almost instantly criticized.
“I hope this starts a dialogue,” Zucker said. “These conversations are important, whether it’s a small group of guys or the entire team. I think they should happen more. We have a platform and we have to use that for good.”
Aside from educating his kids about racism and inequality, Zucker also vowed to continue to educate himself. He talked to his agent Eustace King, who is black, for 45 minutes on the phone this week and asked him about his experiences.
“It was eye-opening,” Zucker said. “I’ve been working with him for a few years now, and known him since I was a kid, and that was the first conversation I’ve had with him about that. That’s my fault. It’s not his job to bring that up. I need to ask those questions and learn and educate myself.”
Which is something he vows to do moving forward.
“I should’ve been better before in educating myself earlier,” Zucker said. “I’m very honest with myself and everyone else when I say I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t do enough before and I need to do a lot more now.”