Flyers’ leader speaks up; more should follow

Flyers captain Claude Giroux released a statement last week in support of Black Lives Matter. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Since he was named the 19th captain in Flyers history in 2013, Claude Giroux has preferred to do most of his talking on the ice.

With no shortage of trash talk in the arsenal, Giroux’s one-liners can be comical and cutting to opponents. But after a game, in front of the media, you’ll often get the cliched “pucks-in-deep” and “gotta work harder” answers that are scribbled into stories following a 4-3 loss.

On June 3, he said something meaningful.

As the National Hockey League continues to pause from the coronavirus pandemic, and the world watched as cities across the United States burned in response to the unlawful killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several hockey players used social media to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Giroux was one of them.

His message was short and direct, saying he hadn’t fully understood the issues at hand but sympathized with those who had been affected. He promised to learn more. He promised to do better. He prefaced the following statement with a Black Lives Matter hashtag:

“Over the past few days I’ve remained relatively quiet regarding the murder of George Floyd. Although silent, I was listening and was truly learning. And although I will never be able to really understand what so many of you go through every day, I want you all to know that I am here, I see you and I stand with you. My family stands with you. I will try to understand better. I will hold others accountable and I will speak up. I will work hard to further educate myself and encourage others to do the same.

Growing up in a small town I was never truly educated on diversity. It was only when I came to Philadelphia that I realized life is so much bigger than I thought it was. I deeply love Philadelphia. But I see white privilege firsthand every day. I see that clearly now. I didn’t understand before but I do now. But I can be better. And I want to do better. To become a true ally and properly teach my son. To stand up for what is right. To not just send a tweet, but to be part of the solution. You have my word.”

Giroux’s statement was just 201 words and it came a few days after other NHLers started taking to Twitter and Instagram to get their message out in their respective cities. It came a day after the Flyers released their official statement and it came a few hours after New Jersey native teammate James van Riemsdyk made his.

Giroux received some Twitter backlash (who doesn’t?) in regard to his message being late. But the captain should be applauded for taking the appropriate time and carefully relaying his message. Why rush when sensitivity is high and words become scrutinized?

Let’s be clear, no one should get a pass on ignorance just because they grew up in all-white neighborhoods.

At the same time, you can’t blame Giroux for taking extra time to gather his thoughts to fully understand what’s now happening around him. Having grown up in Hearst, Ontario, he was largely shielded from racial injustices. According to a Canadian census profile, there were 4,975 people living in Hearst in 2016. Only 25 came from African origins, according to the report.

Giroux himself was likely given the benefit of the doubt in his altercation with a police officer in the offseason of 2014 while in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Sun reported that Giroux allegedly grabbed a male police officer in the buttocks after hanging out at a former nightclub called the Great Canadian Cabin.

Try doing that under different circumstances. Or simply as a black man.

Giroux reportedly spent the night in jail but was never charged. He was 26 then. He’s now 32 with a wife and child and lives in Philadelphia, which is 42 percent African American. He’s vowed to do better as a community member. And that’s a good thing because we need all the help we can get.

Some believe athletes should stick to sports when it comes to world events. Others think the opposite, because when sports figures speak, fans will listen. More should talk and we should take them at their word.

Giroux’s tweet on June 3 was meaningful. The tweets that follow are even more important.