Breaking through hockey’s race barriers

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The nonprofit Carnegie Initiative (CI)’s goal is to advance change in hockey and its culture at all levels. Its first-ever summit was held earlier this week in Boston.

Among the scheduled speakers were scholar and author Ibram X. Kendi; former NHL players Grant Fehr, Anson Carter and Sheldon Kennedy; and a video appearance by Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier in the late 1950s.

Named for the late Herb Carnegie, a Canadian-Jamaican who started a hockey school for youth in Toronto to teach hockey skills, the CI is an extension of that work to ensure that hockey is inclusive, supportive, and welcoming at all levels. Since it is an independent initiative, it also hopes to tackle the large diversity issues that historically faced hockey, as well as address specific community issues that the NHL and other entities aren’t able to.

Bryant McBride
Photo courtesy of Carnegie Initiative

“Hockey is the most important sport in the world for people of color to play,” stated CI co-founder Bryant McBride, a longtime businessman and former NHL executive. He also co-produced “Willie,” a documentary on O’Ree. “I made the argument all the time to my friends, and they looked at me like I’m crazy,” he added.

CI co-founder Bernice Carnegie, Herb’s daughter, concurred. “Hockey is an amazing sport, and we’re just trying to do things to improve upon it and make it possible for more people to enjoy it and to find how it can actually contribute to our lives. It was my father’s first love.”

She also is the co-founder of the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation, established in 1987, and served as executive director for 17 years. “My father was on the verge of losing his eyesight, so I was the one who actually got the foundation up and running,” said Bernice. “We ended up influencing the lives of more than a million kids.

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Initiative Bernice Carnegie

“We had a scholarship initiative that went with it. We gave out about a million dollars in scholarships to young people all across Canada,” she recalled.

Bernice told the MSR last week that the two-day summit on January 17-18 was McBride’s brainchild. Besides the speakers, the event provided an open forum for discussing change in hockey in both the United States and Canada.

“He’s just like my dad,” she said proudly of McBride. “He’s got big ideas.”

McBride, who played college hockey in the 1980s before going into business, was the NHL’s first Black executive as vice-president of business development. “We’ve got to break through these barriers,” he said, that too often exist in the predominantly White sport. “When I got to the National Hockey League many years ago, there were three players of color. We got 40 [now]. 

“The real reality is how do we get to 10 times over the next 10 years,” he continued. “We’ve made some progress, a step forward, two steps back, five steps back. We need to do more.”

He emphasized that this year’s summit was not a one-off. “We’re going to do an event every year where we gather everyone and we call out and solve these problems,” predicted McBride.  

“My father’s story is about how he initially had to navigate around racism” as a Black hockey player whose career began in 1938 and ran through the mid-1950s, said Carnegie. “It started with a hockey initiative…but it turned out to be a humanitarian initiative.”

Note: In our hour-long video interview, Bernice Carnegie talked about her dad, Herb Carnegie. His story will be featured in a future MSR column.