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Blake Wheeler demonstrated again that his leadership skills stretch beyond hockey, speaking up over the weekend about the fiery unrest in his home state of Minnesota following the death of George Floyd.
The Winnipeg Jets captain added his voice to a growing number of North American athletes who have spoken out on last week’s incident in which a Minneapolis police officer held the unarmed man down on the street, digging his knee into Floyd’s neck, for about eight minutes.
Floyd later died. Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Wheeler, who was born in Plymouth, Minn., took to Twitter on Saturday night amidst another day of tense protests in Minneapolis and across the country.
"I’ve wanted to say something for a while, but it’s been really difficult knowing what to say. My hometown is burning. Businesses where I grew up are being boarded up. America is not OK," Wheeler wrote on his own Twitter account (@BiggieFunke).
I needed to say something in my own words. pic.twitter.com/VpkidaMjbX— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) May 31, 2020
"Growing up outside Minneapolis, I always felt sheltered from racism. That’s because I was," he continued. "Most people I grew up with looked like me. I never had to be scared when I stopped at a traffic light or saw the police in public. My kids will never know that fear either.
"I’m heartbroken that we still treat people this way. We need to stand with the black community and fundamentally change how the leadership in this country has dealt with racism. I’m sorry it has taken this long, but I’m hopeful that we can change this NOW. George Floyd’s life mattered. Ahmaud Arbery’s life mattered. So did every other life that has been lost by this senseless violence and racism."
It’s not the first time the 33-year-old married father of three youngsters has used his social media account to comment on issues of injustice, health and safety.
In late September 2017, he responded to President Donald Trump when the controversial U.S. leader encouraged NFL owners to fire any player who protested social injustice by kneeling during the playing of national anthems.
Wheeler suggested Trump’s statements were an attack on freedom of speech.
"It’s the First Amendment of our Constitution. The first one!" said the 12-year NHL veteran winger. "Regardless of how it makes you feel individually, these are literally the principles the U.S. was founded on. Come on, Mr. President."
A year later, Wheeler waded into the debate over gun control south of the border.
"Well…then let’s stop letting them down, Mr. President," Wheeler said.
Asked to comment following a Jets practice at the time, Wheeler said he felt compelled to speak out, as a pro athlete and a father.
"Regardless of where people stand, we can probably all agree that what’s been going on in the U.S. — the amount of school shootings — we’ve got to find a way to remedy that. It’s been going on too long without anyone really doing anything to help. It just seems like something that should be fixable," Wheeler said.
"It’s too much. It’s been going on too long. As an American, I have three kids now. You start to get scared about thinking of them going to school in the United States. It shouldn’t be that way.
"My wife and I talked about this (Wednesday) night, actually. And we agree that the gun laws in Canada seem to prevent a lot of this from going on," he added. "And if there are steps to be taken to prevent this from happening in the future in the United States, why wouldn’t you explore that?"
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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