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Joel Ward mulls anthem decision, receives support from Sharks

San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward said he is uncertain if he will protest during the national anthem at games this season, but said he has gotten support to do so from the team's brass.

Ward, who is Canadian and one of about 30 black players currently in the league, told the San Jose Mercury News that protesting during "The Star Spangled Banner" is "definitely something I wouldn't cross out."

The 36-year-old said he has experienced racism as a kid and as an adult, and also on "both sides" of the United States-Canada border, which is why despite being from Canada he may protest during the playing of the U.S. national anthem.

"I've dealt with it a lot," said Ward, who has played his entire NHL career for U.S.-based teams. "I've had a few things that have happened to me that you could say are not the norm. I've been singled out at different events. I've been pulled over. I've dealt with racism right to my face."

Perhaps most notoriously, Ward was the subject of racist tweets in 2012 after scoring a series-winning, overtime goal in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins while a member of the Washington Capitals.

"It's just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into (Colin) Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they're disrespecting the flag, it's not about just that," Ward said. "It's about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it's going to the mall or whatever."

While some in the NHL may oppose the idea of any player protesting during a national anthem, Ward said he's received support from Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.

"Doug's been unbelievable," Ward said. "He agrees that it's freedom of speech. Obviously, he's aware of what's going on. I've let him know how I feel about the whole issue and he's been open to listening and offering support."

San Jose coach Pete DeBoer echoed Wilson's sentiment.

"I went to law school. I'm a big freedom of speech guy," DeBoer told the Mercury News. "Everyone has the right to message how they want to."

Regardless of whether or not he personally protests, Ward, who wears No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, is pleased to see other professional athletes standing up for what they believe in, even if it means taking a knee.

"It's something that's pretty serious," Ward told the newspaper. "The topic of race is always the elephant in the room. For those guys to use their platform on that stage is uplifting.

"The country as whole has got to rally behind it."

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