Black players speak out like never before
Fifth in a series
George Floyd’s death sparked an unprecedented racial awakening in this country as the half-year global pandemic still rages all around us. Day and night, demands to finally address racial inequalities and social justice issues took over U.S. cities and towns for several weeks. What was then out front and under the spotlight seems now to have returned to the shadows.
The MSR sat in on numerous virtual discussions during the summer of 2020 where the panelists talked race unfiltered, uninhibited and reflective, looking at current events as well as toward the future. This multi-part series examines some of the topics discussed on these Zoom sessions.
This week: Racism on ice
Hockey is still one of the Whitest sports around, and racism is deeply embedded in it. Black players are unfairly viewed as outsiders and intruders. Virtually from their ice beginnings they are often subjected to deep-seated resentment and exclusionary attitudes from other players and fans.
Such overt and covert treatment often served as motivation for these players, but not without leaving some emotional scars along the way. “I didn’t enjoy playing [hockey] in college. I didn’t like the White faces at the rink,” recalled Saroya Tinker. “It did make me hate the game.”
“Some of the kids would say some [hateful] things, and it stuck,” added Blake Bolden.
Black players “are undervalued,” said Joel Ward.
Ayo Adeniye’s parents didn’t want him to play hockey because of its lack of diversity. “I had things said from my teammates,” he recalled.
“I was called the N-word by every parent in the stands,” said Georges Laraque. “You have to adjust. Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes negative.”
Tinker was a star defenseman at Yale and the fourth overall pick by Metropolitan of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in May. Bolden after college became the first Black woman to play in the NWHL, the first selected in the CWHL draft, and in January became the first Black female NHL scout for the Los Angeles Kings.
Ward is one of the founders of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) that among many other things is seeking $10 million—almost $300,000 per team—to fund key HDA initiatives, grassroots youth programs for kids of color, and hiring more Blacks in hockey and non-hockey positions around the league.
Ward played on four NHL clubs, including 11 games for Minnesota (2006-07), and retired in April after 14 pro seasons, all but three in the majors. “We want to implement discussion on racism [with]) all the teams,” explained Ward, now the HDA executive director.
Adeniye is on scholarship at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in his first season. Laraque retired in 2010 and is now a Canadian sports commentator. He played in the NHL (1996-2010) and a season overseas (2014-15).
These aforementioned Black hockey players spoke about their sport’s racism on Zoom virtual discussions held this summer during this period of cultural awakening that emerged after George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day.
“It seems acceptable to speak on race right now,” continued Tinker.
“No more muting myself,” added Bolden.
“My number one [(objective] is to have Black women and POC at all levels. We can’t have the same old, same old anymore,” pledged Renee Hess, the Black Girl Hockey Club founder-executive director. Her group announced last week its Get Uncomfortable Campaign, which includes a pledge “to explore the necessary steps the sport must take to disrupt racism and make hockey welcoming for everyone.”
“The NHL must double down to really make a change in the [hockey] ecosystem,” stated the league’s executive VP Kim Davis, pro hockey’s highest ranking Black woman. She was named to her post in 2017 after over 20 years in corporate America.
“If we think we are going to solve these problems overnight, we are fooling ourselves,” said Davis. Nonetheless, hockey is clearly in desperate need of scraping out its racism from the bottom up.
“We need to change the culture at an early age,” said Bolden.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.