'It brought me to tears': Former Oiler shocked to see NHL stars support fight against racism
‘Your voices are so incredibly powerful you have the ability to touch millions’
Former NHL defenceman Mark Fraser has been wrestling with his emotions over the last two weeks.
Fraser said he watched in horror last Monday as George Floyd struggled for nearly nine minutes as a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd's neck while being detained.
Floyd, 46, died in police custody.
Like millions of others, Fraser has been following the fallout on television and online ever since.
He's also been surprised by the response from some of NHL's biggest superstars who have denounced Floyd's death on their social platforms and made statements urging people to put a stop to racism.
"First of all it brought me to tears, I'll say that. That's how it hit me," said Fraser speaking to CBC from his home in Ottawa.
"Reading their words felt like someone understood my pain, it felt like someone outside of my race understood our pain."
For the first time, players like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron took to Instagram to share their thoughts on what's happening in the United States and about racism.
Fraser said he's never felt comfortable talking about his experience with racism in the game — until this week.
"To hear privileged white hockey players speak passionately about that issue, to hear how they're upset, disgusted or outraged by it … it was totally empowering.
"Because this is something black hockey players, and black people and people of colour, have always known, have always experienced," said the former Oiler.
Growing up and playing hockey in Ontario, Fraser, who is biracial, said he realized he was different from everyone else at 13, at a tournament in Quebec.
While serving a penalty during a game, Fraser says two men leaned over the glass and told him, "Go back to the bush."
'We can't take those likes to the bank'
McDavid, who shared the ice with Fraser once, shared an Instagram post on Wednesday about Floyd's death.
"I believe that the time is now for all of us to get out of our comfort zones, to not sit idly on the sidelines and to be part of the solution to ensure that we end racism in our society," an excerpt from McDavid's post said.
Hours later, the post had been liked nearly 45,000 times.
Fraser wants the Oilers captain and other NHLers to take it one step further.
"We can't take those likes to the bank, we need to see continued action and support," he said.
It's a sentiment shared by a group of black teens in north Edmonton.
Silas Kamis and his friend Kuddus Woubete can usually be found shooting hoops on an outdoor basketball court in their neighbourhood of Cumberland.
Woubete isn't an NHL fan but he thinks McDavid's words will help.
However, the Oilers captain needs to back it up by getting into the community, Woubete said.
"By doing things out in the real world, impacting kids, impacting people, showing that he really means it and that it's truthful and it's genuine — that's the No. 1 thing. That it's genuine."
"I think it's going to have a huge impact, there's people who look up to him," added 17-year-old Camis, who called basketball star Lebron James his favourite athlete.
He says when the face of the NHL speaks, people listen.
"When like the biggest people in the NHL, who don't really talk about it a lot, when they talk about it, it's going to be huge," he said. "If anyone can help make an impact, they're definitely going to make an impact for real."