OMAHA, Neb. -- UND junior hockey players Jasper Weatherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker demonstrated against racial injustices and racial inequities Wednesday before the team's season-opening game against Miami in Baxter Arena.
When the national anthem began playing, Weatherby and Bernard-Docker faced the flag and took a knee, a form of athlete demonstration that was borne out of a 2016 discussion between former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Nate Boyer, a Green Beret.
"We believe racial injustices and the treatment of minorities and people of color in this country needs to stop, and it needs to be improved all over America and all over the world," Weatherby said. "For us, being able to have a platform in a place where there aren't a lot of people of color in hockey or in Grand Forks, it's a really interesting position for us to be in. It's a great platform.
"At the end of the day, we want UND to be a safe place. As athletes who do have a platform, we stand with our brothers and sisters of color."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker, who are believed to be the first Division I men's hockey players to demonstrate by kneeling during the anthem, also said they are strong supporters of military members.
"I have the utmost respect for the military and people who have served," Bernard-Docker said. "I have no disrespect to veterans. I have two grandpas who fought in world wars. They have passed away now. But I have no doubt they would support what I'm fighting for, which is the right to be treated equally."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker's teammates stood alongside them on the blue line, but did not lock arms as they originally considered.
UND coach Brad Berry said beliefs among other team members are varying.
"We've given it a lot of thought," Berry said. "We have a really tight group, a close-knit group that cares for each other. One of the things that comes with our group is we have players from all different parts of the country. In saying that, people have different beliefs. They have different thoughts. One of the things we are is respectful.
"This is something that just didn't happen tonight. It was thought about from the players' standpoint. Jasper and JBD talked about it within the locker room. Everybody got their head around what was going on. And for the one time they did it, the one time tonight, it was something they wanted to do. Everybody, myself included, has different thoughts and different beliefs as, probably, those guys. But at the end of the day, it was a respect thing and we want to make sure nobody is disrespected through what happened today."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker said they hope it sparks discussion and invites others to join them in the antiracist movement. They said they are only planning on kneeling for them anthem for the first game, but they'll continue antiracist work off the ice.
They're both part of the UND Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group that meets every other Sunday. They've held a team movie night to learn about the history of racism in America and worldwide. And they're working on an initiative to bring more people of color to UND hockey games.
Reaction on social media to the athletes' demonstration was mixed.
Some were angry and threatened to pull donations from the school and stop buying merchandise.
Others praised them. Among those with praise was North Dakota State star quarterback Trey Lance, who could go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance knelt during the anthem before NDSU's lone football game this season. He tweeted at the UND men's hockey account: "I am a HUGE fan of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jasper Weatherby. You guys are making a change. Thank you."
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference sent out a statement Wednesday night.
"The National Collegiate Hockey Conference recognizes and supports our student-athletes and other institutional staff members' desire to express their individual beliefs. We respect expressions that share in our values, bring awareness to the importance of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion across the conference and within our campus communities. The conference's Student-Athlete Well-Being Task Force and member institutions remain active and committed to educational programming and resource development for our student-athletes in various areas of social justice."
Weatherby and Bernard-Docker are both alternate captains of the team and NHL draft picks. Weatherby is a fourth-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks. Bernard-Docker is a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators.
"This is my third year playing with those guys," said UND teammate Matt Kiersted. "I knew Jasper coming in. They're both great human beings. As you can see, they're very outspoken. They have the right to express their opinions the way they choose. But I think there's respect in the locker room for those guys. Their leaders on the team. They're wearing letters this year. And that's well deserved."