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Bill Foley won’t judge Reaves, Knights players who kneel for anthem

Updated August 6, 2020 - 2:49 pm

Internal struggle can be difficult to navigate, even for someone as successful as Bill Foley.

The owner of the Golden Knights and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Foley considers others kneeling for the national anthem —including some of his team’s players — one such challenge.

It was Monday when, as a sign of protest against racial injustice, forward Ryan Reaves and goalie Robin Lehner joined two members of the Dallas Stars in taking a knee during the American and Canadian anthems before a round-robin playoff game in Edmonton.

“Everyone has the right to expression,” Foley said Wednesday. “I’m not a big fan of bringing politics into sports. I really don’t like it. I don’t think it’s appropriate. I respect the way players think and what they believe. I’m being very open-minded about it and trying to be supportive of them.

“I’ve got my own views and thoughts. I’m a patriot. I’m a big military guy. I’ve enjoyed my relationship with the military. It does a lot for our country. I always stand and put my hand over my heart when the national anthem is being played or sung. But I’m not judging anyone for anything. I don’t think it’s right to do so.”

A common bond

One of the basic tenets of life is trying to understand each other. In this manner, Foley the military graduate and those Knights who choose to kneel share a common bond, both sides committed to their beliefs and yet respecting of the other.

Foley is as West Point as the Patton Monument. He loves the Army deeply and everything for which it stands. Reaves is the son of a former sergeant with the Manitoba Sheriff Services in Winnipeg whose family tree of law enforcement dates to the mid-1800s.

But in the days and weeks that followed the death of African American George Floyd, which resulted in a second-degree murder charge against a white Minneapolis policeman, Reaves searched for the best way to express his feelings toward racial injustice while holding true to his admiration for police and those who have served in the military.

It’s a burdensome hurdle complicated by countless layers of emotion.

Foley said he and Reaves, who is biracial, shared a private telephone conversation before the player took the ice and knelt beside Lehner and two others.

“You know, growing up in a military family and going to West Point, I didn’t get (racial injustice),” Foley said. “We were all color and gender blind. It’s just the way we are. I’m not as in tune as I probably should be in some of those areas.

“Ryan is a quality guy. What he’s doing, he’s doing from the heart. I have a ton of respect for him. I’m not being critical. It was a personal call he made.

“He’s a good guy, a good family man, has a great wife, comes from a terrific family. I’m sure he will make the right decisions and do what’s right for him and will always be respectful of the team and what were trying to accomplish.”

Do your job

Lehner after the Dallas game told reporters his decision to join Reaves was more about human rights than politics. That beyond educating through communication, it was time for action. That he didn’t want such protest to be limited to just one news cycle.

“There was an athletic director who used to be at Army who said, ‘It’s a 47-month cauldron that you go through,’ ” Foley said. “People don’t care if you’re awake all night, if you’re in the rain, if you’re in the snow, it doesn’t make any difference. No one is going to feel sorry for you. You’re just there doing a job. It’s what I feel and believe.

“I’m not just going to be tolerant. I want to be completely open-minded about the issues other people have and the way they think and try to make sure that I conduct myself in the proper way, the right way. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what we’re all trying to do.

“I do think we ought to concentrate on winning hockey games. The most important thing we can do right now is get (through round-robin play) and then just destroy the competition. That’s really what I want to see happen.”

Spoken like a West Point man.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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