COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.
But Brown, 27, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, will instead continue a more hands-on approach in the community in an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of issues he believes are important: police brutality and racial inequality.
Brown made the announcement in a lengthy Twitter statement Wednesday, detailing how he plans to donate Lightning tickets and his time to several Tampa Bay area organizations.
"I understand this issue cannot be resolved overnight, nor can I do it alone" Brown said. "I am done raising my fist during the national anthem. I am now using this support, opportunity and platform to call out everyone who agreed or disagreed with me to help by sharing suggestions, continuing respectful conversations and looking for ways that they, too, can make a difference in the community."
Before a game against the Panthers on Oct. 7 in Sunrise, Brown became the first NHL player to protest during the anthem, raising his right fist. He knew there would be backlash but believed in his heart that it was the right thing to do, wanting to show that the issues raised by the NFL players doing anthem protests "weren’t going unnoticed by the hockey community." Before deciding to protest, Brown consulted family members — including his father, former NFL running back Ted Brown — and active military members.
Brown thanked the Lightning organization — including owner Jeff Vinik, management and teammates — for supporting him "regardless of their personal feelings" about his protest. The team asked him Saturday how it can help him accomplish what he wants to get done.
This isn’t a situation in which the team pressured Brown to stop his protest. Would the Lightning rather Brown attend to these issues off the ice rather than on it? Absolutely. Was there negative feedback from fans, including season-ticket holders offering their seats back if the protest continued? Yes. But the response was mixed, with a lot of support for Brown.
Brown hasn’t played since Oct. 7, a healthy scratch in the past five games. But that likely has more to do with him being the 12th/13th forward on a team that has played just 11 in the past five games (going 4-0-1).
The more likely reason for his decision is the three hours Brown spent at the Tampa Police Department’s citizens academy Friday. Interim Chief Brian Dugan reached out to Brown and met with him Oct. 9, inviting him to the academy to get a police perspective in training exercises. Brown accepted and called his experience in simulated traffic stops and "shoot, don’t shoot" scenarios eye-opening.
"You see what they go through," Brown told the Tampa Bay Times. "I have a better understanding, I can guarantee you that."
Brown plans to continue that relationship, including doing ride-alongs with police. He also is donating more than 600 tickets to Lightning home games to organizations including Bigs in Blue, a program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America that pairs police officers with youths, and RICH House, a Tampa Police Department outreach program for at-risk youths. He’ll also be getting involved with Vinik’s Winston Park Boys & Girls Club, where Hillsborough County deputies volunteer.
"Together," Brown said in his Twitter statement, "we can help teach these kids valuable life lessons, and how to play hockey."