‘It’s not something that I will ever understand, or any other white person will understand’
A Charlottetown hockey player is encouraging people to get educated about racial injustice and inequality while she plays in the NCAA in New Hampshire.
Ava Boutilier is the captain and goalie of the University of New Hampshire women’s hockey team.
She and some of her Wildcats teammates are now “taking a knee” at the start of their games.
“We felt it was really important, as a group … especially in a predominantly white sport, to show our support and solidarity with not only persons of colour on our team — we have two persons of colour on our team — but in the league as well,” she said, speaking to Island Morning host Laura Chapin.
Boutilier said the Wildcats were the first NCAA team to take a knee. Now that decision in support of racial equality has spread to other NCAA teams.
“There [have] been a few teams that have followed us, notably the North Dakota men’s hockey team, and they are [a top-five team] in the country,” Boutilier said.
The idea came from a campus committee on mutual respect. The committee had athletes from various sports and the group talked a lot about diversity equity and inclusion, she said.
After events such as the protests around the death of George Floyd, the team really put a focus on talking about racial inequality, she said.
This is not a protest against the country itself. This is not a protest against your brothers or sisters or parents that might serve in the military.- Ava Boutilier
However, the move hasn’t come without some pushback.
An online article was published about the team taking a knee. Boutilier said several comments asked why the team was doing it — and suggesting conversations were already had on the subject in the sports world.
“It’s never a comfortable conversation to talk about race, race issues, racial injustice, and especially with a predominantly white sport, which is why I especially felt it was important to demonstrate,” she said.
“It’s not typically something that, you know, we think about it. It’s not something that I will ever understand, or any other white person will understand. So having those conversations is important to try and educate as many people as possible.”
Coaching staff and the university were supportive and made it clear players could demonstrate or protest in whatever peaceful way the team wanted, Boutilier said.
The movement to take a knee in sports began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem to draw awareness to police brutality against people of colour in the country.
A common criticism of the movement is that kneeling during the U.S. national anthem is disrespectful, but Boutilier doesn’t see it that way.
“This is not a protest against the country itself. This is not a protest against your brothers or sisters or parents that might serve in the military,” she said.
Boutilier has family in the military. She said many of those choosing to kneel on the team do also.
“This is a simply a protest against police brutality, racial injustice and the systemic inequality that persons of colour face, especially in this country, but also in Canada as well.”
All Wildcats games are streamed and Boutilier said she hopes fans see the team kneeling and it creates a larger conversation.