Every week, check out Freelance Friday, featuring a rising journalist who is (ahem) a few decades younger than me. See their take on . . . whatever.
By David Schiele
Hockey is for black people more than you think. The NHL isn’t phasing out African-American players from the rosters of its teams, nor is the league punishing those who take a stand for civil rights through peaceful protest during the Canadian or American national anthem. You know those other leagues I’m talking about. They go by the initials of MLB and NFL, respectively, and I’m sure you’re aware of what they’re doing wrong.
Let’s look at the NHL, which is doing plenty of things right.
Just a couple of days ago, the NHL announced its 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class. Out of the six inductees, Willie O’Ree really sticks out. Why? Well, he was the first black player in NHL history. Just 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, the Boston Bruins called up a 22-year-old O’Ree from the minors to play against the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins won 3-0, by the way.
Now at 82, O’Ree continues to contribute to the game, working with the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program that aims to increase diversity.
O’Ree’s bravery led the way for black hockey stars such as Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, who was just announced as the cover athlete for the newest installment of EA Sports’ NHL video game. Subban scored a career-high 16 goals last season, and he was nominated for the league’s top defenseman award. Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, he’s not the first black man on the cover of the NHL’s official video game. Jarome Iginla grabbed that honor in 2002. The NHL’s decision to have both Iginla and Subban as cover athletes shows that the league is unashamed to honor its black players.
Rewind to even earlier this month. That’s when the 44-year-old Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup and gave Washington, D.C. its first world championship of any kind since the Redskins managed their last Super Bowl victory 26 years ago.
The Capitals not only ended that lengthy title drought for the nation’s capital, but they turned a metropolitan area that’s nearly 50% black on fire for hockey. And while on tour with the Stanley Cup around town, Capitals star player and captain Alex Ovechkin made it a point to stop by the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, which houses the only predominately black hockey club in America.
Snoop Dogg is one of the biggest hockey fans in the world, and he teamed up with the NHL during the Stanley Cup playoffs to create videos that explained how hockey works for newcomers.
All of that was just this month.
If you look back to 2010, you’ll see the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) boasting of five black players on their roster, including four-time NHL All-Star Dustin Byfuglien. The team partnered with local programs and schools to uplift black people in the inner-city.
Here’s another thing: Fifteen years before O’Ree reached the Hockey Hall of Fame, Grant Fuhr became the first black man to do so. During Fuhr’s 19 years along the way to becoming one of the greatest goaltenders ever, he was a six-time All-Star and won five Stanley Cups. Last time I checked, grabbing five world championships earns a player “GOAT status,” and for verification, just ask Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady.
So while you may be boycotting one league (as in the NFL) and disgusted with another (as in Major League Baseball), give the NHL a chance, even if you’re an African-American. Hockey is a fast-paced, contact sport that surely won’t leave you bored. I’m not trying to convince you that it should become your favorite sport, because it certainly isn’t mine.
All I’m saying is that the “hockey isn’t for black people” excuse is no longer valid.
That is, if it ever was in recent years.
David Schiele is a journalism major and an African American studies minor at Georgia State University, graduating in December. He’s the former sports director of GSU’s student TV station. In his free time, David watches pro wrestling, plays video games, and reads. Follow him on twitter @Deacon_Schiele