TAMPA — Lightning wing J.T. Brown won't sit or kneel for the national anthem during tonight's season opener against the Panthers. There's a chance he might not even be in the lineup.
But when Brown, 27, does play, don't be surprised if he raises his right fist during the Star-Spangled Banner. It's a symbol of solidarity and strength, Brown said, adding he hopes to bring awareness to police brutality and inequality for minorities.
Brown, one of approximately 30 black players in the NHL, used this protest before the Sept. 28 preseason game against the Panthers in Sunrise, finding it a middle ground for those who say kneeling for the anthem disrespects the flag. Brown said he spoke with several active military members and his family before deciding to do it.
Approximately 250 NFL players have sat or kneeled during the anthem the past few weeks, sparked by President Donald Trump saying those who do so should be fired.
"Some will tell you that's disrespecting the military," Brown said. "Well, I wanted to hear it from someone who is serving, not some person on Twitter. Some thought (kneeling) was disrespecting, but most felt that we have a right to do it regardless of whether they agree with you or not, or would stand next to you."
Brown is active in the community, serving as a mentor to at-risk kids in the team's Guide the Thunder program. He also donated $1,500 toward removing a Confederate statue from downtown Tampa.
Brown spoke with coaches and teammates before last week's protest. Captain Steven Stamkos and others have said they would support a teammate's protest. Brown doesn't know when, or how often, he will do it.
"It's kind of hard to just say you're going to do it one time or throughout the season," he said. "For me, right now, we're going to keep trying to bring awareness. You want to make sure you're in the community, you're backing up what you're talking about, what you're supporting, not just talk."
One unsung area where F Chris Kunitz and D Dan Girardi will have an impact is on the penalty kill. Both free agent signees are expected to be regular contributors. … Brown could be scratched tonight, so could Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr, unless the Lightning goes with seven defensemen.
Quote to note
"I just made opening night. But I want to play the full season. I want to be an NHLer."
— D Mikhail Sergachev, on making his Lightning debut tonight
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.