Joel Ward is not going to kneel for the national anthem.
The San Jose Sharks forward posted a lengthy statement to Twitter on Thursday afternoon to explain his decision. Ward, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, previously told reporters he "wouldn't cross out" joining a movement that has swept the NFL.
Some thoughts...excuse the length! pic.twitter.com/YUNMgjaAgn
— Joel Ward (@JRandalWard42) September 28, 2017
"I hold an immense amount of respect for the many players -- across the sporting world -- that have chosen to peacefully bring attention to a couple of big issues in today's society, which are inequality and the use of excessive force against people of color in the United States of America," Ward wrote in his statement. "Make no mistake that racism exists and that people of color are treated differently on a day-to-day basis."
Ward wrote he felt "the original message that was trying to be communicated had been lost," as many have confused kneeling during the anthem as a protest of the flag or military.
Ward, 38, was born in Canada; his parents are immigrants from Barbados. Earlier this week, Ward told The Mercury News that he had long conversations with his GM, Doug Wilson, who was open to listening and offered support in whatever the forward decided to do. Sharks coach Pete DeBoer reiterated his support for Ward, telling the newspaper: "I'm a big freedom of speech guy. Everyone has the right to message how they want to."
The NHL has nothing in its rulebook addressing anthem protocol, what players must do or even where they need to be while it is performed.
"All that is mandated in our bylaws is that the national anthem(s) be played before our games - U.S. if it's a game here between two U.S.-based teams, Canadian if it's in Canada between two Canadian-based teams and both anthems if it is a game in either country between one from each," a league spokesperson wrote in an email to ESPN.
Ward ended his statement with a call to action.
"But now that I have the world's attention, let's meet at the kitchen table, the locker room or in the stands and continue the healing process," he wrote. "Let our collective focus be on bridging the gap between communities -- on working to heal generations of unequal treatment of people of color in the United States of America -- and not turning our backs on that which is hard to face head on."