First of a two-part column
Black contributions in hockey, whether in the United States or in Canada, have historically been whitewashed out of history books. Filmmaker Kwame Damon Mason’s goal is to help rectify this omission.
Mason’s 2016 documentary Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future tells the untold story of the Coloured Hockey League that was founded in Nova Scotia in 1895 and lasted until 1930, as well as the oft-overlooked history of U.S. and Canadian Black hockey players. It features archival film footage and interviews with the late Canadian-Jamaican Herb Carnegie, who founded one of Canada’s first hockey schools for Blacks in 1954, and Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL in 1958, along with other current and former Black NHL players.
Mason, who wrote, directed, and was the film’s narrator, was in St. Paul in February and screened his film to two distinctly different groups: local school children and Minnesota Wild staff. The former were much more diverse than the virtually all-White team front office staff.
After screening his film at the Wild’s downtown St. Paul arena, Mason talked to us on the different post-film reactions from each gathering. “A lot of these kids, even after watching the film, had no interest in hockey,” he pointed out.
“Their lives have been about basketball, baseball and football. I want[ed] the kids to see something different than what they have been told all their life when it comes to sports.”
As for the Wild staff, “I wanted the staff…to say to themselves, ‘There is something more about the game of hockey I did not know. We have three minority players on our team, and they come from a longstanding history in this sport,” Mason said.
“I’m hoping that the staff is able to walk away with this knowledge and feel a lot more comfortable about…doing a better job in going out to these communities and making them a part of our team just like everyone else,” Mason continued. He strongly urged the Wild, and all NHL clubs for that matter, to do more in their outreach efforts to Blacks and other people of color besides the “Hockey is For Everyone” program that usually takes place in February each season.
The almost 90-minute film, besides its historical timeline and interviews, also chronicles a young Black hockey player’s quest of making the NHL. It also touches on the continuing problem of racism in hockey as discussed by some players.
“It is a hurdle that [hockey] needs to get over,” Mason stressed. “I hope that one day [current Black players] will feel a lot more comfortable in speaking about [racist] situations. The guys who retired, a lot of them have no problems [talking] about what they went through. They have nothing to lose.”
Mason said he wished he had devoted more of the film to Black female hockey players such as Angela James, one of the first females inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “They called her the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he added.
Mason plans to return next year to the Twin Cities, probably in February. “What I’d like to do is connect the Black community with the Minnesota Wild and have some sort of call to action,” he said, “not just to watch the film, feel good and walk away.”
Next week: A Black woman starts a hockey fan club for females like herself.