The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 14, 2022 1:00 am

Komets to honor MLK tonight

To wear uniforms, which will be part of auction for charity

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets will don Martin Luther King Jr. uniforms and celebrate the impact of the late civil rights activist when they face the Indy Fuel at 8 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum.

As far as the Komets can tell, no other pro hockey team has held an MLK night, at least not one in which special jerseys were worn, and they hope it will further the conversation of race in a predominantly white sport.

“Everything (King) did was huge for his country and for the world. The impact that he had in the world, this will have a lot of special meaning, especially (for players like me) of color,” said defenseman Marcus McIvor, who was unexpectedly called up to Ontario of the American Hockey League on Thursday.

The Komets' history is full of minority players – to name some, Steve Fletcher's number is retired; Leo Thomas won a Cup; Kevin Weekes ascended to the NHL; and Stephen Harper, who should be in the lineup tonight, was the ECHL's Playoff MVP last season – and the team prides itself on its inclusivity.

But there's much work to be done regarding race in the hockey world, as evidenced by former Komets player Jalen Smereck enduring a racial taunt in a Ukrainian league game last September.

“I'm all about inclusion, especially within hockey,” McIvor said. “We need more diversity in the game and the better it gets, it would be amazing for the game. This is a step in the right direction.”

The Komets will auction off tonight's jerseys to benefit Healthier Moms and Babies, an organization whose goal is to reduce infant mortality and improve the outcome of pregnancy in Allen County by offering health education and services to low-income, high-risk pregnant women and their families.

There have been many inclusivity initiatives in hockey recently, including the NHL's “Hockey Is for Everyone” campaign and the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings playing on rainbow-colored ice last week.

The path to the Komets having an MLK night began last year with conversations between the Komets' executive vice president and co-owner, Scott Sproat, and the sponsor of the event, nonprofit healthcare company CareSource.

Most residents of Fort Wayne know of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge, which brings travelers over the St. Marys River and into downtown, but King's connections to Fort Wayne go beyond that.

The Komets' MLK uniforms, which will be purple, black and white, have a nod to June 5, 1963, when King spoke in Fort Wayne at what had been the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

“I was doing research and we found the links to Fort Wayne and that he had spoken here in Fort Wayne, (two months) before the 'I Have a Dream' speech and the year before he won the Nobel Peace Prize,” Sproat said. “It sort of became, 'Wow, there's a lot of synergy here.'”

Knowing some fans might not fully embrace a social-change agenda, the Komets didn't hesitate to hold an MLK night.

“Our organization has a history of having a very diverse group of players that have come from all different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, nationalities,” Sproat said. “It's never been a consideration (when signing a player), it's just always been: If it's a high-character guy and a good player, we've never worried about what his nationality was or what came with that. If that's always been our approach from a player standpoint, then why wouldn't that be our approach with (something like) this?

“We figured there might be some of our fans who would be against it. And we figured there would be some of our fans who would embrace it. ...

“At the end of the day, when we stacked everything up, the only reasons I could find against doing it were counterintuitive to what we were trying to say in the first place. The only reason you wouldn't do it would be if you were racist or had a problem discussing racism.”

Notes: Former Komets goalie Pat Nagle, 34, was selected to play for the U.S. in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Nagle has played this season for the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms and ECHL's Reading Royals. ... Roman Will, 29, another former Komets goalie, will compete for the Czech Republic.

Komets vs. Indy Fuel

When: 8 p.m. today

Where: Memorial Coliseum

at Toledo Walleye

When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Huntington Center, Toledo

vs. Kalamazoo Wings

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM

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