Normally, I’m in the midst of the NHL playoffs and all its glory. We’ve had a bunch of game sevens and an interesting start to the second round. However, there’s something that’s been troubling me.
We all know about the racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and banned him for life. I know people are asking, “what does this have to do with the NHL?”
Well… when news of the Sterling’s comments broke last weekend, Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks said that Sterling should retire in a column. However, there was one other comment that caused me to really scratch my head.
Banks said this in her column:
Let the real estate magnate and Clippers owner take his millions and buy a hockey team. Then he won’t have to worry about black superstars showing up for games on his girlfriend’s arm.
That comment left me and should leave most people speechless for many reasons.
First, I’ll issue this disclaimer. I do want to try and handle the issue of race and hockey in a respectful and tasteful manner. I want to open up debate and encourage dialog between people. I do help you feel that I’ve handled it in that manner.
I probably will repeat a lot of the points that Yahoo Sports writer Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshnski did in his column that I saw later that day. However, some of it bears repeating and I’ll expand on some of the points that he hit on.
Last week, something even more troubling happened when some rouge Boston fans targeted Montreal’s P.K. Subban with racist tweets that forced the Bruins to apologize. (This isn’t Boston’s first time dealing with racism in they had to apologize after Washington’s Joel Ward eliminated the Bruins in 2012.)
I do believe it’s just a few Bruins “fans.” I don’t even call them fans as they truly don’t know much about their team. If they bothered to check facts, they’d realize Subban’s brother, Malcolm is in the Bruins' farm system and Jarome Iginla is black. It’s still sad to see that people will go to the lowest common denominator when bashing someone that beats their team. The Bruins also had the first black NHL player in Willie O’Ree.
First, I do realize there aren’t a lot of African-North American players in the National Hockey League. In fact, Wikipedia has a list of all of the black players that have laced up the skates in the league. (Which isn’t that much.) However, there are still plenty of players that are black that play in the league.
Look at what happened in game six of the Anaheim and Dallas series. The Ducks’ Devante Smith-Pelley and the Stars’ Trevor Daley each scored two goals in that game. Wayne Simmonds netted a hat trick in game six of the Flyers’ win over the Rangers. Jarome Iginla got another forty-goal season. P.K. Subban won the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) last season and has had a monster start to the Boston series. Plus there are great young players like Seth Jones of Nashville, Emerson Etem of Nashville, Evander Kane of Winnipeg and so on.
To say there aren’t black NHLers is ridiculous. The league has diversity in its own manner. Look at the number of countries that produce NHL players. We all know about the North Americans, Russia and Scandinavia. Look at what happened in the Olympics. We saw respectable performances for Switzerland, Latvia and Slovenia. We’ve had Asian players like Jim Paek and Richard Park of Korean descent. Hockey, like the NBA, has global appeal and speaks to people from many countries.
In examining the list, I discovered that a lot of the players are from Canada. There are a few African-Americans on the list, but not a lot. There have been many articles like this that wonder if African-Americans care about hockey at all. There could be a lot of reasons why there aren’t a lot of black players. It could the availability of hockey rinks in Canada as opposed to America. It could be economics as hockey is a lot more expensive than sports such as basketball and soccer (which has received a big boost in the number of children playing the sport.) The cost of getting equipment every year for a growing child is so much that the Canadian government offers a tax credit to buy it. It could also be that the NHL isn’t prominently featured on ESPN. Whatever the reason, I do hope the kids at least get a chance to try hockey out.
Honestly, I do think most hockey fans and executives (and other sports for that matter) don’t care where the player comes from as long as he can deliver. We’ve come a long way from the days of Jackie Robinson and Fritz Pollard. Am I saying everything is a bed of roses for hockey when it comes to race? Of course not, we’ve gotten examples of it from the recent racist tweets directed at Subban and Ward. Plus, we’ve had criticism of players like Subban and others. We’re by no means done with the issue of race and hockey.
Like I said before, I do hope I’ve addressed this in a fair and responsible manner. Leave comments below or tweet me @DanMountSports. Thanks for your time.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist with TJRSports.com. He is based out Watertown, NY.