I started really paying attention to hockey in the 2010-2011, which is the year that P.K. Subban broke into the league with the Montreal Canadiens. This is also the year after Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets -- then the Atlanta Thrashers -- made his NHL debut. My first year of hockey fandom really opened my eyes to how closed-minded people who were involved in hockey -- be they fans or members of the media -- really were. There has been very few people to speak out about racism that is faced by black players in the NHL. They are judged differently and are held to a higher standard than their white counterparts. I have decided to only profile Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals, and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. These four players have all suffered racism since 2011. This is recent so it cannot be said that we are a more refined society now and that racism in hockey does not exist.
What is Racism:
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary racism is "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race" and "radical prejudice or discrimination".
To find these examples of racism I searched for documentation that they occurred. If I could not find documentation of the racism occurring I did not include it so no false accusations against anyone were made. The threshold I used was simply "has something like this been said about a white player who has done the same thing?". If the answer was no than I included it. Most of the evidence may not be considered racism by all so I will say this. I believe that there is overt racism which includes but is not limited to calling people racially charged names or using racially charged symbols. I also believe that racism can be subtle and almost unknown to the person who is saying it. It can come from preconceived notions and come from an place of innocence or ignorance, but it is still racism.
Why this matters:
The main reason is because all kids need role models. Back when the Jets were still the Thrashers and they had four black players playing for them (Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya, and Anthony Stewart) CNN went to talk to them about how important it is for them to be black NHLers in Atlanta (http://newsone.com/1016315/black-hockey-players-accuse-nhl-of-racism/). Byfuglien became a little boys hero because he was black. As was said in the Marie Wilson said in the documentary "Miss Representation", "you can't be what you can't see" and young people need to see positive role models they can aspire to be like; someone that they can see themselves in.
Evander Kane - Winnipeg Jets
Kane is one of the more controversial figures on the Jets for reasons that are not always clear. He has been accused of skipping out on restaurant bills; though this has never been proven. He has also been thrown under the bus for taking a picture of himself in Las Vegas with a money phone during the lockout last year. Though this is hardly mature behaviour, it is not the worst thing in the world and yet the esteemed journalists in Winnipeg thought that the Winnipeg Jets had a major problem on their hands when the lockout ended. A much more suitable response would have been to simply say that it was not the most mature thing to do, but he is a young man and he will slowly matures. Much ado about nothing.
In February of the same year Kane told The Hockey News that he was subject to race-related hate on social media though he never specifies if there is racist terminology used in the comments on social media, but I can only imagine that there were some then. He also was accused of having hair that was unbecoming by the white media that covers him and the Jets daily. NHL.com recently did a feature on P.K. Subban and he talked about having to get his hair done every week. Kane could simply be like Subban and wanted to have some fun one time, but the media held it against him.
Wayne Simmonds - Philadelphia Flyers
When making my original list for players who had recently suffered racism I forgot about Wayne Simmonds. Thankfully Twitter remembered him and I was able to include him.
Simmonds suffered one incident in the pre-season of 2011 when he was a new member of the Philadelphia Flyer that would be considered overt racism and if the perpetrator is to be believed it was fuelled by ignorance. A banana was thrown onto the ice before Simmonds took a shot in the shootout. For those of you who don't know the banana is a symbol of racism because black people used to be called apes or monkeys because of their skin colour.
This was not the only racism directed towards Simmonds. During The Flyers first round playoffs series with state rivals Pittsburgh Penguins, Simmonds was the target of several racist tweets from Pens' fans. It should be noted that not all Pens fans agree with these tweets and many were hopefully denouncing them. This was not the only time this happened in the 2012 playoffs though. The most famous incident happened to Joel Ward after he scored the game seven winner to defeat the Boston Bruins.
During the lockout Simmonds was also the victim of racist chants in the Czech Republic but that does not pertain to the subject of racism in the NHL.
Joel Ward - Washington Capitals
What I said about all Pens fans not being racist goes for all Bruins fans as well. Following the Bruins first round playoff loss in game seven overtime in 2012, many fans took to Twitter to make racist remarks about Ward. These remarks were quickly denounced by both the Capitals and the Bruins. Though it is not the job of a team to keep their fans personal Twitter accounts appropriate at all times, the Bruins denouncing this shows that the organization does not support or approve of their fans behaviour. If racist chanting or other actions happened in an arena I would hope that teams would have the rights to remove the person or group of people. They cannot do this with social media so the best reaction is to simply denounce the behaviour and separate themselves from it.
P.K. Subban - Montreal Canadiens
I left Subban for the end for a reason. He is one of the most controversial figures in hockey with a reputation that precedes him. He is a fantastic hockey player who is one of the best in the league. He is also a player that appears to be the victim of more subtle, unintentional racism than any other black player. Though there is only one documented case of overt racism (more on that later), there is an uneasy feeling when things are said about Subban. The first incident happened in his rookie season. Subban is not the only rookie to "chirp" a veteran player, but he was singled out by Don Cherry and Mike Richards for trash talking, a skill that almost every NHL player practices during any game.
The most painful example of unintentional racism is an unfortunate Darren Pang clip. Pang felt horrible about what he said and apologized at the next opportunity he had, but what he said clues us into how NHL people view Subban.
The words most commonly used to describe Subban beside defensive liability include athletic and flamboyant. Though he is an engaging personality off the ice and has the ability to make the Bell Centre collectively rise from their seats when he goes up ice on a rush with the puck. Though these comment may be subtle, it should be noted that they are rarely used to describe other talented hockey players.
The most overt and possibly dividing example of Subban dealing with racism took place in early 2012 when Krys Barch, then of the Florida Panthers, asked Subban if he had slipped on a banana peel. According to Barch the comment was not intended to be racial, but the linesman who overheard him say it interpreted it as such. Thankfully, there was one person who immediately spoke out against the accusation and felt that is should be felt with by the league. The first was Randy Cunneyworth, then head coach of the Habs, "The bottom line is there is no room for that. Those things have to be (addressed immediately) and the referees are on the ball about those kinds of incidents."
The backlash from fans for the action taken by the linesman was divided to say the least. I was able to find the thread on HFBoards.com that you can peruse if you wish. I warn you some people see that the comment is a problem when said to a black player like Subban, others shrug it off and question why the NHL even cares what is said on the ice.
We should care if there is potential racism in hockey. Because we are dealing with humans who play a game for our entertainment. They deserve a safe workplace like the rest of us. If someone was harassing you on social media because of your skin colour, you would want something done. Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect, even if you do not like that particular player or team that they play for.
I do not think that racism is prevalent at a team level. The aforementioned Subban is supposed to be in negotiations to sign a long-term extension with the Habs, Kane has a long term extension with the Jets, Ward and Simmonds are in the same boat as well. They have been able to play in the league that their talent allows them to. If Subban is left off of the Canadian Olympic Team it will not be because of racism, it will be because Hockey Canada feels as though his play is not up to the level of an Olympian, but that is another matter.
What can we do to stop this though. If you see social media accounts spewing racist remarks at a player, report it. If you hear racist remarks at a game, tell someone. If you feel as though someone in the media said something that can have racist connotations, even if they are unintended, tell them. Help people around you learn. Hate breeds from ignorance and the best way to stop ignorance from spreading is education. And stopping it cold. This is not an everyday occurrence that should be front and centre on sports pages everywhere but gentle reminders of why certain words can cause pain to certain races is needed when in the heat of battle.
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