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An essay on Hockey, Race & the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement.
It has been over 2 weeks now since the death of Minnesota native, George Floyd. Since then, not only have we seen Americans come together for racial equality & justice under the Black Lives Matter collective, but also the entire world, from the U.K., to Australia, to Russia, and beyond.
Which brings me to my point: with so many people of all races & backgrounds coming together for a common cause, we as a Hockey community made up of players, fans, parents, coaches, referees, league officials, and owners, MUST form a NEW united initiative in creating a more positive & welcoming environment for players of color who have - and still are - experiencing racial hatred, slurs, exclusion & discrimination in the game so many of us love and believe to be the best sport on Earth.
Hear me out.
My name is Tracy, a male in his 40’s, and I’ve been playing hockey since I was 6, and started to watch NHL Hockey when I was 8. I am also a fan of Women’s Hockey as well.
I created @nhlblak58 on Instagram as my moniker to bring awareness, educate and even bring humor to others like me - those who love the sport of Hockey but are underrepresented, and want to network with others like themselves all over the world.
I wanted to start this page 4 years ago but just kept putting it off, for peer pressure reasons. Finally, I decided better now or never. 6 months later, I have met & corresponded with Hockey fans & players from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Germany, Australia, Africa, Japan & even the Middle East!
I’ve heard “go play basketball”, “the puck is the only thing that should be black on the ice”, “Hey, token boy”, “this ain’t the jungle”, shouldn't you be playing Football with yo homies?!”. And so on. Seen Bananas, watermelons, KFC chicken thrown on the ice. Seen blackface at games....by parents, no less.
I’ve also seen my Indigenous teammates & brothers be called “Tonto”, “Redskin”, “Chief”; taunted using the “war cry” and tomahawk chop. I’ve seen my Asian teammates & brothers hear “ching, chong”, be called Bruce Lee, told “open your eyes” or “after the game, do my math homework”.
I’ve even heard the pained taunts of female hockey players, (especially my Black sisters) and they collectively ALL hurt.
My question is why?
Why is it like this? Why do you instill hate into the sport I love so much? What did we do that made you so spiteful that you have to uphold the common myth that “Hockey is a white sport”. My answer to that is/ always has been: “But isn’t Hockey a TEAM sport??”
In most instances, a Hockey team is actually a family, hence me using the term, “brothers” in my previous example. If you’ve ever been on a Hockey team then, you KNOW. The practices, the games, the road trips. All to achieve one goal, one objective: to win, and to have fun doing it.
One Hockey story that I’ve always found heartbreaking is that of Herb Carnegie, who was so good, according to Willie O’Ree, that “Herb should have been the one” [to be the first Black player in the NHL].
The story goes that while scouting for new players, then Owner & Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe, saw Herb on the ice, and turned to someone and said, “I’ll give anyone $10,000 to turn (Herb) Carnegie white!”. This claim would be verified & backed up by Hall of Fame referee Red Story, who was one the ice that day, standing mere feet from Smythe. Years later, despite proving himself in the minors with scoring titles & MVP awards in the Senior Quebec League, teams like the NY Rangers, undermined him once more by passing him over for far less talented players and then offering him a contract 1/3 LESS of what he was making. Herb never got his chance to play in the NHL because of the color of his skin. Point blank. No doubt about it.
Fast forward to today, and people in authoritative positions are still using that power to abuse it. For example, Bill Peters used racial slurs against his then own player Akil Alu. Apologizing and admitting his mistake, Peters was rightfully removed as coach of the Calgary Flames last year in 2019.
There are other similar examples of this racial insensitivity and it reminds me that this so-called “Hockey culture” needs a change. And now. We need to put our foot on the gas and never let up.
And I have a special message for white people: we need your help. No longer can this brand of the Hockey culture where racism, and even sexism or gender/ sexual preference for that matter, is tolerated, accepted or, is given the “it’s none of my business” or “it’s kids being kids” treatment. Like in society, the time for change is now. We’ve seen where this poisonous “norm” had taken us in the form of police brutality, systemic racism, profiling & discrimination in America’s (and the rest of the world’s) history.
And with the death of George Floyd, everyone witnessed that IT DID NOT WORK. If this racial discrimination & inequality does not end now in Hockey, then the sport will suffer, in more ways than one.
To summarize, Anaheim Ducks player Eric Gudbranson, was recently interviewed on the issues of both the Black Lives Matter agenda & Hockey, and had this to say: “For a long time, fear of saying the wrong thing kept me from speaking out. But the fight for racial justice is too important for any of us to stay silent...... As a white man, I have the ability to decide how much to involve myself in these tragedies — on both an emotional and practical level. It’s a privilege that Black people aren’t afforded — they have no choice but to be involved — but having the option to turn away doesn’t absolve us of our fundamental responsibility to do the right thing. As the majority, we need to open our eyes and hearts, and speak with our voices and actions to fight for racial justice and change this narrative”.