Away from the spotlight, work for diversity and urban recovery continues for Wild's Matt Dumba
Even before the Minnesota Wild had played a game in the summer playoffs, defenseman Matt Dumba had made international sports news by standing, and taking a knee, in a call for inclusion in hockey. Back in Minnesota now, he has made helping riot-damaged business in the Twin Cities rebuild and recover his next mission.
PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — It was a near-perfect summer day in Minnesota, with sun, warm temperatures, few clouds and a nice breeze blowing as Matt Dumba prepared to play a round at the Hendrickson Foundation Golf Festival recently. But he admitted he would have rather been in Alberta, and not just because that western Canadian province is his home.
Just a few days earlier, Dumba and his Minnesota Wild teammates had been bounced from the qualifying round of the pandemic-adjusted NHL playoffs in Edmonton, falling in four games to the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five series. For Dumba and a handful of other Wild players gathered to golf for charity at The Legends Club south of the Twin Cities, there was a clear sense that they should still be quarantined in a hotel in Edmonton, prepping to play a Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“Obviously there’s disappointment,” Dumba said, finding a silver lining with a smile. “But Minnesota summer isn’t that bad.”
Speaking out in the spotlight
Before the Wild took to the ice in Edmonton and shut out the Canucks in the opener of their series, Dumba had made international sports news, using his unique position and pulpit to speak out for movements like Black Lives Matter and the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, of which he is a founding member.
Prior to a game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks on Aug. 1, Dumba delivered a powerful speech of nearly three minutes that he had memorized, calling for more diversity in hockey, and an end to the racism that players of color have experienced for decades.
“I hope this inspires a new generation of hockey players and hockey fans,” he said. “Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us.”
Dumba then took a knee between two other players of color — Chicago’s Malcolm Subban and Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse — while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, but stood for the playing of "O Canada." His message, and his actions, drew much praise. But the admiration was not universal, with some fans in Minnesota and elsewhere deriding Dumba for his decision to kneel for the national anthem. There were even calls for the Wild to cut or trade the defenseman.
Two weeks later, Dumba said in retrospect he would only do one thing differently.
“There’s been way more support than there have been negative people or people who are just not willing to try to understand. It was not (done) out of disrespect for the anthem, it was just the biggest possible stage for me to drive those points across,” he said. “It was a no-brainer for me, and my only regret is not (kneeling) for both anthems when I was there.”
Activism born of experience
Long before he was the seventh overall pick by the Wild in the 2012 NHL Draft, Dumba was just another hockey-playing kid growing up in Calgary who stood out for two reasons: he has incredible skills, and his family is Filipino on his mother’s side. Dumba and Chris Stewart — another player of color who spent time with the Wild — first became friends as children and experienced the same off-hand comments, slurs and different treatment because of the color of their skin.
Stewart and Dumba, who turned 26 last month and has spent parts of seven seasons with the Wild, are two of the founders of the Hockey Diversity Alliance , which aims to make the game more accessible, open and friendly to anyone who wants to play.
“To think that others might have to go through the same things that we did, that’s where it all hit me,” Dumba said of his history with Stewart. “It comes from seeing some of the people I call family or really good friends and having them subject to potential hate in our game and in this world. To know that there’s something like that in hockey still, and having lived it myself, I just didn’t want that to ever happen again.”
Prior to the Wild’s four games versus the Canucks, Dumba stood with a raised fist during the anthems, drawing the admiration of teammates like Jordan Greenway, who two years ago became the first African American to play hockey for Team USA in the Olympics.
“It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s done and do the things he does. He’s a great ambassador for the Minnesota Wild for sure and the rest of the league because he’s right at the forefront of it and he knows exactly what he wants to say,” Greenway said. “It’s not easy to get up and do that. For me, I know I wouldn’t make it seem as easy as he does, so I’m glad he’s stepped up and is doing what he’s doing.”
Helping his adopted hometown
Due to the pandemic and the temporary shutdown of the NHL, Dumba was at home in Canada in late May and early June when violence exploded in the Twin Cities after the killing of George Floyd. For a person known to frequent the minority-owned businesses on Lake Street, and who has worked closely with Athletes Committed to Educating Students (ACES) which uses sports as a hook to get kids in the Twin Cities excited about math and learning, it was hard to watch.
“It was weird, and definitely scary at times, worrying about the people I know back here, the kids that I work with in ACES,” Dumba said. “There were so many unknowns, and then to come back and see it all, it was unexplainable.”
A month or so after the violence subsided and the cleanup from looting and fires had begun, Wild and Fox Sports North released a video of Dumba driving his classic 1968 Mustang Fastback down Lake Street , getting a first-hand look at some of the places he had visited previously, and marveling not only at how much had been lost, but how the recovery had already begun. Back in Minnesota now, he has helped launch a fund-raising effort to help Lake Street businesses bounce back.
“I’ve talked to a couple people there and gone to a few of my favorite restaurants,” Dumba said. “They’re coming back, and it just shows the strength and resiliency of the community and of Minnesota, with people helping out and wanting to make a difference. There will be plenty more opportunities to help out in the future, and I’ll be there.”
Long before they were sequestered due to the pandemic in places like Edmonton, Toronto and Orlando, it has been said that highly-paid pro athletes live in a bubble of wealth and privilege, not exposed to or aware of “real life” going on around them. To his critics, Dumba encouraged them to get out of their own bubbles and work to make life, and hockey, better for everyone.
“For people who don’t understand, you just have to read a little, and listen, and open up the perspective just a little bit,” he said. “Try to see things in other people’s shoes and have some empathy for what's really going on in the world right now.”