This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
Minnesota might be the so-called state of hockey, but it’s also the state of invisibility when it comes to Black hockey fans. The Only One again used the one-hand counting method and spotted hockey fans of color at two recent contests.
Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo had the time of her life at her first-ever hockey game. “I’m enjoying it,” exclaimed the Harare, Zimbabwe visitor between periods of Minnesota’s January 31 shootout win over Ohio State.
She and her husband caught on very quickly and cheered each time the Gopher women pucksters scored and moaned when they didn’t. She is a visiting Humphrey International Fellow. “I think this team is a very good team.”
Gladys recalled that she didn’t get out to sporting events the last time she was in the States during a 2010 visit to the University campus. This time around, “One of the things we are encouraged to do is to get out and visit some of the sports that are here in Minnesota and [see] how people spend their time,” she said. “I am going to see the culture of the people and interact with the people. That’s the reason why I am here.”
She also got to see the good and the bad as far as local sports is concerned. “I’ve gone to see the Timberwolves. They are not a very good team,” assessed Hlatywayo.
Gladys also asked where the Black U of M women hockey fans are. “I [am] not seeing people of color. It was something I was thinking about: Why is it that Black people don’t come and support games like this? But I see more at basketball games.”
Washington Post On-Line Columnist Clinton Yates once wrote that it’s not easy being a U.S.-born Black hockey fan. “It’s awkward and embarrassing to walk through an arena and enjoy a game when 90 percent of the people in the building who look like me are working [there],” he noted.
“It’s apparently still jarring for a Black guy to…talk about hockey,” continued Yates. “And if you’re a Black woman? Forget about it.”
Don’t tell that to Nedy Windham, an unabashed sports fan.
“I grew up in Detroit, and I grew up on hockey. I love hockey better than baseball,” she said before a recent Minnesota Wild contest — she attends “a couple of games a year. I don’t have season tickets, but I have friends who have tickets.”
Asked how many Blacks she sees at these games, Windham easily counted, “About one or two.”
“Hockey is not a big part of the Black sports community, and that’s unfortunate,” noted Yates. “The worst part is having to defend your knowledge of the game in public settings.”
This reporter has lost count how many stares he gets from non-Black media types and others when working in the hockey press box.
I watched Hockey Night in Canada growing up, and I watch NHL hockey on television as much as watching hoops. Sometimes I enjoy it more. I also can follow the game as well as any non-Black reporter out there.
“I don’t think it is as unusual [seeing Blacks at hockey games] today as it was 20 years ago,” concluded Windham. We’re out there, but we’re still seen only in single-digit numbers.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated 9/28/2017 – A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a person in the above photo. The error has been corrected.