Trevor’s palms grew sweaty as he stood outside the visiting team’s locker room with Heather and Justin. He wore a light jacket over his shirt so that no one could yet tell what he was wearing. He was going over in his mind everything he had to say, but he feared he would forget it all as soon as he stepped out onto the ice. He had never spoken to a large group of people before, only the press.
“It’s going to be alright,” Heather said softly.
Trevor nodded. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry.
“I’ve been praying for you and Liam,” Justin said.
Trevor looked at his friend. For the first time, he appreciated what he was saying. “Thank you,” he said. He still did not know much about God and religion, but it seemed to bring his teammate peace, so he trusted him. What did he have to lose?
“It’s in God’s hands now,” said Justin. “We can try to make things right, but it will be up to him in the end.”
Trevor lowered his head. He knew his friend’s words were supposed to make him feel better, but they made him uneasy. He did not like not being in control. He did not like not knowing what was going to happen. He could control his destiny with hockey. But this… This was almost completely out of his grasp. He could only try his best and accept the results in the end. Would he be able to cope if he failed?
“We should go,” Justin said gently. “The game’s going to start soon.”
Trevor nodded. He turned to walk into the locker room, but Heather’s voice called him back:
He turned around and looked at her questioningly. She quickly came up close to him. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his head down to kiss him. He immediately closed his eyes and held onto her waist, relishing in the taste of her lips. He gazed into her eyes when she pulled back. An odd sort of peace settled inside him.
“I’ll see you out there,” she whispered.
Trevor could only nod. He forced himself to pull away from her and head into the locker room where Justin had already disappeared.
“Hey, Clifton, are you going to get mad at us if we lose to Dallas again?” David chided him, seeming to be only half joking.
Trevor looked at him and blinked. What did the results of one game mean to him? He had something much more important to focus on. “No. We will win or lose as a team.” Of course, he would try his hardest to win. He would play for Liam.
The time for the game soon arrived. Trevor warmed up on the ice with his jacket on. He knew he was receiving strange looks for this unusual behavior, but he ignored them. They would understand soon enough.
He could barely pay attention. His missed several easy shots at the goal. He hoped his teammates would forgive him. He was too nervous about his upcoming speech to concentrate on hockey. The latter just did not seem to matter at the moment. How had he ever let it become the only important thing in his life?
As he skated to his team’s bench, he caught Coach Burns’ eyes. The Stars coach nodded at him. It was almost time. Trevor tried to take deep breaths in order to relax himself, but he did not find the practice too helpful at the moment.
Justin sat down beside him. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Trevor shook his head slowly. “No, but I’m running out of time.”
“What are you wearing?” Justin asked, looking at his jacket curiously.
“You’ll find out.” He kept his focus straight ahead. He wondered if what he was about to do was legal or if it broke any rules. Would the NHL be mad? He did not want to get Coach Burns in trouble. He would have to hope the specific situation would be moving enough to provide an exception from all conventionality. Surely people mattered more than rules.
The stadium grew quiet when Coach Burns skated into the middle of the rink with a microphone in his hand. Then murmurs and objections were let out. The players looked around at each other questioningly.
“Hello,” Burns said into the microphone, his voice reverberating throughout the stadium. “I’m Coach Burns of the Dallas Stars. I know you’re all excited for the game to start, but former player of mine and now Wild forward Trevor Clifton has something he would like to say to everyone.”
There were shouts of outrage, but no one seemed to know what to do. The Wild’s Coach turned on Trevor. “What is this about, Clifton?” he growled.
Trevor ignored him. He stood up and stepped onto the ice as Burns approached him. He took a deep breath. This was it. He knew how to silence everyone. He knew how to get their attention. He stripped off his jacket and threw it to the floor, revealing the green North Stars jersey underneath.
He heard loud gasps as he skated to the middle of the rink where Burns had previously stood. When he got there, he took the time to calmly look around at his surroundings. Everyone had grown quiet. He guessed they were all curious as to what he had to say. That was just what he needed. He noticed several fans wearing North Stars gear. He wondered if they were Stars or Wild fans. He had never bothered to think about it; they had always been the enemy. But now he was one of them. He had become his childhood rival, and he knew there was no place he would rather be.
Hard determination crossed his face as he raised the microphone to his lips and began to speak. “I’m sorry for the interruption, but I have something important to say.” He paused. “You’re probably wondering about the jersey. I just – I grew up in Chicago when the North Stars were still in Minnesota. They were rivals to my team, the Blackhawks. Of course, the two states hate each other in every other sport, along with Wisconsin, so naturally I hated Minnesota.” He gazed at the crowd. “That was fine when I was in Chicago, but I took that hatred and bias with me when I entered the pros, which is something I should never have done. It was not fair of me to hold a grudge against the Stars or the Wild. Neither had done me any harm.”
He took a deep breath. “I first want to say that I’m sorry to both teams. I wasn’t much of a team player. I found every reason to hate Texans and I carried that attitude over to Minnesota. But I’m done with that now. I still don’t understand much about Texas culture, but I respect it. And I love being in Minnesota. Both are great states and you all should be proud of your teams. You don’t need to fight with each other. You are connected, after all.
“Texas would have never had a professional hockey team if not for Minnesota, so all of you Dallas hockey fans should be grateful to that state for foolishly letting go of their beloved North Stars. The Stars are yours now. You should enjoy them. Don’t be afraid of the North Stars. They are part of your team’s history, and so they are a part of you. Recognize it and then move on if you have to. But don’t try to cover up the past because it’s too painful or uncomfortable. Trust me, it doesn’t work and it’s not good for you. Be proud of the Star’s history; it is a good one.
“And Minnesotans, you have every reason to be bitter about losing the North Stars. I can see now just how much hockey means to you. It must hurt to not only have lost the team, but to have lost it to a southern city that doesn’t care much about hockey overall. I would be mad too. But don’t blame Texas. The state took an opportunity given to it. Sure, the situation could have been handled different, I know you would have liked the rights to the name, but it’s in the past. Let it go and be happy with the memories you have. I used to think it was insulting to the Wild for you to continue to wear North Stars stuff. It’s not. The Wild are not the North Stars, but they are a part of the same Minnesota hockey tradition. The North Stars are a part of the Wild and of you too, and that’s alright. You can cheer on your new team while respecting the past.”
Trevor had not meant to go on about that so much. He paused and took several deep breaths. Everyone was listening to him carefully. Now was the tricky part. He had to segway into the main point of his speech. “So, Texas and Minnesota are connected through the North Stars. But they’re also connected in another way.” He took another pause to carefully frame what he was going to say next.
“When I was first traded to the Wild, a friend of my mother’s who lives in Dallas asked me to take her 10-year-old son with her because he could have a better life in Minnesota. I know this sounds strange, but that’s because you’re not aware of your own laws. I’m sure most of you are familiar with sex offender registries. Every state has one online where you can look up offenders and use the information to protect yourselves and your families. The idea was that people should know who the predators are who will likely harm children and women again. That’s fine if all the people on the registry fit that description and are a true threat to the community.” He paused. “The only state where that is the case is in Minnesota.”
“The age of consent is different in different states, but in some, an 18 year old guy can go to prison for having relations with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Not only that, but he will be put on the sex offender registry. Because most people don’t know this, everyone will think he’s a dangerous pedophile. I’m sure you all know how people like that are treated. They’re hated and ridiculed. Does the 18-year-old really deserve that treatment? If people knew the truth, maybe they would give him some slack, but lawmakers have not bothered to make it clear who exactly is eligible to be on the sex offender registry.”
Murmurs broke out. Some people seemed uneasy. Good. Trevor knew most people knew injustice when they heard it. “That’s not all. In some states, like Texas, young children are prosecuted and put on the registry, which is funny, because I thought the purpose of the law was to protect children. The child I was asked to watch over was eight when he made a mistake. It was a mistake many children at that age make. He was with a female friend and dared her to touch her private parts. This is behavior to be corrected, sure, but do any of you think it’s a crime? Do any of you think a child like this deserves to be on a registry in which people think only dangerous predators belong? I can tell you firsthand, Liam is not dangerous. He is kind, optimistic, and one of the best people I have met. He does not deserve to be treated this way by a system that is supposed to be protecting him.
“Children should not be convicted of sex crimes. They don’t even know what sex is. They have not reached the age of reason. They have no idea the consequences of their actions. It is the job of their parents to educate them in these matters, not the state. And they should not be labeled as sex offenders. I read about a teenager who exposed his parts at school and was convicted and put on the sex offender registry. Once he returned to school, he was hated so much by his peers that he committed suicide.” He paused. Everyone had grown silent. “These laws are doing more harm than good. They’re ruining lives instead of protecting them. Innocent people are being hurt. You must tell your legislators that you will not stand for this any longer.
“It’s hard for politicians to look like they are supporting criminals, especially sex offenders, so it is up to you all to demand change. Make them see common sense. Educate yourselves and others about these laws. If enough people know the truth, real change would be possible. If you want to protect your children, make sure they’re not made criminals. Texans, it’s time to rise and demand real justice. Minnesotans, stand with them. Know the gravity of the situation and make sure the same thing does not happen to your state. We need to support each other and save our children.
“Liam traveled with me to Minnesota so he could escape the label imposed on him. Everything was going great until he was arrested for not registering as a sex offender in Texas. Now he’s back under Texas law and is in jail for a felony. His parents let him stay with me, but that does not seem to matter to anyone.” Trevor felt overcome with emotion; it showed in his voice. “Please, if any of you have the power to do anything, get the state to let me take Liam back home. If the laws won’t change, he needs to be in a place with better laws, at least for the time being. Go to the jailhouse, call your legislators, peacefully protest, do anything that needs to be done so that Liam can have some sort of justice. They need to drop the charges and allow him to live with me. I don’t trust the courts to do the right thing. It needs to happen now. I’m going back to Minnesota tomorrow. If you can do anything to help me out, I will be eternally grateful to you all. I believe in you. Together, we can make a difference. Thank you.”
Trevor lowered the microphone and wiped his wet eyes with his sleeves. All he heard was silence. Then he turned and skated back to his bench. He handed off the microphone and sat down, feeling suddenly cold.
“That was amazing,” Justin whispered.
Trevor said nothing. His other teammates cast him furtive glances.
Awkwardly, the game begun. Trevor found strength he did not know he had to play to his fullest. He scored two of his team’s three goals. Dishearteningly, the Stars played just a little better, winning by one point.
Trevor felt weary and defeated as he skated to join his teammates. Then something odd happened. The people in the stands, both Stars and Wild fans, stood up and began applauding. Trevor looked at them in surprise. He exchanged a glance with Justin, but he just shrugged.
“Hey, Clifton,” a deep voice said.
Trevor clenched his jaw as he turned to face David. “Hello,” he said in a forcibly calm voice.
David seemed hesitant; there was an unusual expression on his face. “I just wanted to apologize for the way I’ve been treating you. I didn’t know you’ve had to go through so much.”
Trevor looked at him in surprise. He had not been expecting this, and he was not quite sure what to say. “Thank you,” he said awkwardly.
David dipped his head. “I’ll try to be a better teammate from now on.”
Trevor nodded. “Me too.” He watched as the Canadian skated away.
Looking back at the seats, Trevor noticed something that made him feel tight with emotion. On the back of a cardboard sign, a fan had written “Fight 4 Liam.” Trevor bowed his head in understanding. He had gotten through to him. They would stand with him, and that was better than beating the Stars.