Jasper Weatherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker explain why they will kneel for the national anthem at UND's season opener
UND men's hockey players Jasper Weatherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker know they may stir emotions Wednesday afternoon before the No. 1-ranked Fighting Hawks open the 2020-21 season.
So, they want to get this out there: When the national anthem plays at Baxter Arena, Weatherby and Bernard-Docker will be kneeling to demonstrate against racial injustices and inequities that exist both in America and elsewhere around the world.
Their goal is to shine a light on issues, encourage others to either begin or continue their learning processes, open discussions, and invite people to join them in the antiracist movement.
They also want to make their message clear beforehand, so others don't try to distort it.
"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 said. "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 and Bernard-Docker, who are both white, know it will make some people uncomfortable, and they're OK with that.
"I think change is uncomfortable for a lot of people," Weatherby said. "If this (demonstration) is uncomfortable for you, it's a great opportunity to educate yourself and look inside and ask yourself, 'Why does that upset me?' and 'Why is someone from my hometown doing this?'
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"We hope the hockey community knows that we stand with people of color and we are not OK with the way people are being treated in this country."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker, junior classmates and roommates, have been pushing for racial and social justice off the ice, and raising awareness among teammates, too.
They attended a Black Lives Matter march together in Grand Forks, along with teammate Peter Thome, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker are both members of the UND Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group. They meet every other Sunday to discuss campus initiatives. Weatherby, who also is the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's player representative in a college hockey diversity group, independently sent a list of recommendations to campus officials on ways they could make campus a more inclusive place.
Last month, UND held a team movie night where they watched a documentary on the death of George Floyd. They also watched a film that highlighted systemic racism of Black people in the United States going back to slavery and progressing through segregation and redlining.
"For me and Jasper, it was an opportunity to educate our team," Bernard-Docker said of the movie night. "We're trying to learn more every day as well. We're not perfect. We still have a ton to learn. With our team being mostly white males, we've never had to deal with racial injustices. Just to open some of our guys' eyes and show them the history of the past hundreds of years in America, and around the world, how minorities have been treated is important. It makes you realize how well we have it."
The UND hockey team also is working on an initiative to bring more people of color to UND hockey games once fans are allowed back in arenas.
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"Afterwards, the guys can take them on a tour of the facilities," Weatherby said. "We want to bring people together."
UND recently held an hour-long, players-only meeting to discuss what they were going to do during the national anthem.
The rest of UND's players are expected to lock arms alongside Weatherby and Bernard-Docker, who were both voted alternate captains by their teammates before the season. Those standing next to them will put their hands on their shoulders to show solidarity.
"Everyone has their own values and beliefs," UND captain Jordan Kawaguchi said. "No matter what, we're still a team and support each other. We want to make sure everyone knows there is no disrespect to anyone. We want to respect everyone. This is a sign of support to a certain cause and no disrespect to anyone."
Weatherby said the plan right now is just to kneel for one game.
"I've had a lot of conversations with my family members about it," Weatherby said. "Everybody chooses to protest and use their voice in different ways. This is an action that's looking to spark conversation and change. For me, personally, I felt that kneeling once is going to bring more attention and positive change and conversation in the right direction. I'm not saying I won't kneel again, but right now, Jacob and I are planning on doing it for the first game only."
'A historic moment'
Kneeling for the anthem has become a common form of protest in sports since quarterback Colin Kaepernick did it as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.
Kaepernick originally sat on the bench during the anthem, but after speaking with Nate Boyer, a Green Beret, Kaepernick changed it to kneeling as a way to simultaneously show respect for military members and demonstrate against racial injustices in America.
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker, whose grandparents fought in overseas wars, want to make sure people know they have deep respect for those in the military, too.
"I have the utmost respect for the military and people who have served," Bernard-Docker said. "I have no disrespect to veterans. I have two grandpas who fought in world wars. They have passed away now. But I have no doubt they would support what I'm fighting for, which is the right to be treated equally. People fought for our country so citizens could have fundamental rights. This is what the military fought for."
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Weatherby said: "What they sacrificed for is allowing us to make a statement peacefully."
Anthem demonstrations have not been as common in the hockey world, which is predominantly white.
In the NHL, five players knelt before the national anthem this summer: Ryan Reaves, Matt Dumba, Jason Dickinson, Tyler Seguin and Robin Lehner. Previously, J.T. Brown raised his fist during the anthem.
Four longtime college hockey writers, who were surveyed by the Herald, were unaware of any Division I men's college hockey players to kneel during the national anthem.
UND history professor Eric Burin, who wrote the main essay and put together the book, 'Protesting on a Bended Knee,' which documents athlete activism, centered around Kaepernick, said this particular demonstration is "a historic moment."
“Imagine a star hockey player in the 1960s going to Selma to march with Martin Luther King Jr., and others,” Burin said. “Well, in 1965, that player probably would have been scorned and rebuked for joining. At the time, most white people thought such demonstrations were divisive and counterproductive.”
Weatherby's family knows that well.
His grandmother, Ann Macrory, participated in the famous Selma to Montgomery march as a 25-year-old civil rights activist. She recalled to family members being yelled at by racist locals during the march.
Macrory, who became a pioneering civil rights lawyer, also stood in the National Mall watching King give his 'I Have a Dream' speech and fought for things such as housing equality and immigrant rights during her career.
A family history of activism
Macrory is just one prominent civil rights fighter in Weatherby's family.
Weatherby's grandfather, Ralph Temple, fled the Nazis as a 7-year-old Jewish boy growing up in London. In America, he became a civil rights lawyer, who fought Jim Crow in the courtroom, worked underneath Thurgood Marshall at the Legal Defense Fund and alongside Martin Luther King Jr., on a couple of cases.
His mother, Lucinda, grew up in Washington, D.C., protested apartheid at the South African embassy and successfully lobbied her high school to divest from any companies that had South African ties.
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Weatherby also has been deeply influenced by his adopted brother, Kevin, who is Black and a descendent of the indigenous Bribri people in Costa Rica. Through DNA and ancestry research, they determined that Kevin is the descendant of an enslaved African from Nigeria, who was taken to Jamaica.
Bernard-Docker doesn't have that family history, but he said his parents played an important role in shaping him as a person and his worldview.
"For me, it's just the way my parents raised me," Bernard-Docker said. "I don't have the same background as Jasper. But one thing my parents always stressed is you need to treat everyone with respect. It doesn't matter where they grew up or what their beliefs are.
"I've had a few people ask me, 'Why do you plan on kneeling? You're Canadian.' My response is that it goes so much deeper than nationality. No matter what your background is, or where you're from, our goal is to try to draw attention to how everyone should be treated equally. It's a basic human right that everyone deserves."
The UND campus has not been immune to racism problems.
This summer, two volleyball players left the team after a video surfaced of them singing song lyrics that included the 'N' word. UND used one of the players on a promotional poster, drawing sharp criticism from star UND football player Jaxson Turner.
This fall, details came to light of UND hockey incoming freshman Mitchell Miller's past racism, bullying and assault when he was an eighth grader of a Black developmentally disabled classmate. After four days of public backlash, UND President Andrew Armacost removed Miller from the hockey team, but said he could stay in school.
"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."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker hope their message resonates with the community.
"We're not major stars like a LeBron James or a Serena Williams," Weatherby 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."