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Hockey makes progress in midst of awakening about racism

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2007, file photo, Nashville Predators center Jerred Smithson (25) clears the puck away from Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Anson Carter, center, in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tenn. Carter played a decade in the NHL and has since become an analyst for NBC Sports, which will launch Hockey Culture with him at the center of the show. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2007, file photo, Nashville Predators center Jerred Smithson (25) clears the puck away from Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Anson Carter, center, in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tenn. Carter played a decade in the NHL and has since become an analyst for NBC Sports, which will launch Hockey Culture with him at the center of the show. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Anson Carter filled his time in pandemic isolation walking 11 miles a day, sometimes with his dogs, around his Atlanta neighborhood.

When video surfaced of another Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, being shot and killed in nearby Glynn County, Georgia, Carter found himself looking over his shoulder. To use a hockey term from his playing days, he kept his head on a swivel.

“It crosses your mind," Carter said. “I’m always aware of my surroundings at all times. I don’t take it for granted.”

It's the sort of experience the 46-year-old TV analyst wants to explain to viewers. He'll get that chance beginning Tuesday, when NBC Sports launches a new “Hockey Culture” show spearheaded by Carter — a 10-year NHL player — to “try to change the culture of hockey, one interview at a time.”

The initiative comes amid an awakening in hockey about systemic racism and its role in the majority white sport. Minnesota's Matt Dumba recently became the first NHL player to kneel during the “Star-Spangled Banner," Vegas teammates Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner were joined by Dallas players Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson kneeling for the U.S. and Canadian anthems the next night, and teams are taking tangible steps to address the issue in their communities, led by the Washington Capitals.

"Hockey is a great game," Dumba said in a powerful speech before one of the first games of the NHL restart, “but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us.”

Each step has brought the question of what's enough.

When Dumba took a knee, fellow Black players Darnell Nurse and Malcolm Subban each stood with a hand on his shoulders, and some questioned why they didn't also kneel. When Dumba raised his fist during the anthems the next day, some questioned why he did it alone.

“It’s natural, it’s healthy to always want to do more,” Carter said. “You always question what more. I’ve been questioning that since I’ve been involved in the game. It’s never enough, as far as I’m concerned.”

Unprecedented efforts are underway. The NHL has formed player, executive, fan and youth inclusion committees and partnered with the Hockey Diversity Alliance formed this summer by several current and former Black players.

The Capitals are setting an example for the league's other 30 — soon to be 31 — teams by establishing a fund to eliminate cost barriers for minority youth players, expanding their relationship with the oldest minority youth hockey program in North America and its home rink, and educating current players and staff on diversity and matters of race.

In all comes in the U.S. capital, which is the NHL market with the highest percentage of African-American residents. Capitals president Dick Patrick said the team consulted with players and alumnus Joel Ward and reached out to “Soul on Ice” filmmaker Kwame Damon Mason about what more could be done in the Washington area.

“He basically said: ‘It’s not up to you to solve the big issues. Work on things that you can impact right away and go from there,’ and I thought that was good advice,” Patrick said. “The players can make statements about more global issues, but as far as actually having an impact, we have to see what we can get done really on a local basis.”

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who backstopped the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title two years ago and was at the forefront of speaking out as a white hockey player, said now is the time to affect real chance.

“The organization right from ownership down I think has the right mindset and the right beliefs behind it to really use our platform for positive change, not only in the D.C. area but everywhere,” Holtby said.

Carter, who had two brief stints in Washington, is on board because he believes other teams will follow the Capitals' blueprint. The former right wing from Toronto considers his role an opportunity to put a voice to concerns about racism in hockey and the world.

In the first “Hockey Culture” episode that was filmed before the playoffs began, he and Reaves trade stories about being pulled over by police and the fear that accompanied them in those situations. Reaves spoke about being the son of a Manitoba Sheriff Service Sergeant and how he could still see problems within law enforcement while not believing all cops are bad.

Four years after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest police brutality against minorities, Reaves made a point of saying he wasn't trying to disrespect the flag or those who have fought for freedom in the U.S. Seguin and Dickinson were even asked what cause they were supporting by kneeling — the one Reaves explained clearly.

“Those people go across seas and they go to war and families are torn apart in these wars for the freedom of this country, only to come back and find out this country isn’t free for everybody,” he said. "I think that’s where I’m coming from. Not everybody is truly free in this country, and I think it’s starting to come to light a lot more right now."

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.

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