His name is Willy O'Ree.
On January 18th, 2008, the Boston Bruins held a ceremony at the TD Bank North Garden to honor the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut as the first black man to play in the League.
However, the history between Black players and the sport of Hockey hasn't always been bright.
Since, the first time they hit the ice as kids, to the time they become well-known players around the League, things have never been easy.
Pittsburgh Penguins Georges Laraque has been interviewed back in the time when he played for the Edmonton Oilers.
"My own team-mates refused to accept me, because I was black", said the player whose perseverance has been inspired by Baseball’s Jackie Robinson's story. "I remember fighting all the time" said Laraque, addressing the way he would protect himself against the way he was considered and treated in— let's face it— what appears to be a white men's sport.
His father recalled Laraque being a young Hockey player, scoring four goals during a camp and finally being cut from the roster due to the color of his skin.
To date, there are not more than 20 black players in the National Hockey League.
· Players do not feel like getting through a sport in which they would be considered different no matter what;
· The demographic repartition of the population.
In a recent statistical study, it has been found that people of African descent make respectively two percent of the Canadian population, and twelve of the American one.
In the NHL, Canada produces close to 70 percent of the players.
Ken Martin, the Senior Director of Community relations and diversity programs of the NHL, who is an African American, raised another cause. "Traditionally, black youths have turned to basketball, partly because some blacks in lower economic areas can't afford the equipment and travel expenses."
Although the racism issues do not involve only Black players, it has been the most pro-eminent.
Racism can also go from touching French Canadian players, to players from Native descent.
We have heard about the scandal surrounding Phoenix Coyotes Captain Shane Doan, who has been reportedly calling referees, "F’ing French".
Ted Nolan, the current New York Islanders Head Coach, had also been suffering from slurs regarding his native origins, while coaching in the Junior League of Quebec back in 2005.
"Some fans started doing the war cry, the tomahawk chop, the shooting of the bow and arrows and saying derogatory statements about my native background right from the get go", Nolan told reporters after the game.
I have not heard much controversy over the last season, regarding the issue of racism in Hockey. Whenever I think about the ceremony the Bruins held for legend O'Ree this year, I do feel proud that the sport seems to be progressing in that matter.
As a Habs fan, I can't wait to see how prospect PK Subban will be doing.
Regardless of how he looks, or the color of his skin, he will wear the colors of my team, and will be fighting for the honor of my city. He deserves, as anyone else, the highest respect.