NHL Black Perspective: Racism in the NHL Is Ridiculous

Warren ShawCorrespondent IIOctober 29, 2010

Early Black Hockey Players in Canada during the 1900's
Early Black Hockey Players in Canada during the 1900's

The Atlanta Thrashers cannot seem to get a break. They drafted first round choices Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk but could not hold on to them. Marian Hossa and Marc Savard did not stay either.

The management makes a shrewd move, trades Kovalchuk’s rights, and receives forward Niclas Bergfors, Defenseman Johnny Oduya, and top prospect Patrice Cormier.

The previous regime drafted forward Evander Kane who currently leads the team in goals with 6 in 10 games.

The team traded first round draft choices and a promising player, and received highly sought after Stanley Cup playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and prospect Akim Aliu.

The trades engineered by GM Rick Dudley provided the team a new look and character and a substantially more physical presence but now criticism of the team comes from a different direction.  

On ESPN's Around the Horn, the question was posed whether the Thrashers were clever marketers because they had black players in a city that had a 50% black population and perhaps the wealthiest African Americans in the country.

The article incorrectly counted five players of African descent on the roster but the Thrashers have four; a number that has been matched by other teams including the Edmonton Oilers.

An article on the Bleacher Report posed the question “Could selecting players to cater to a largely African-American demographic (Atlanta) be viewed as the equivalent of affirmative action or in the eyes of some reverse racism.  

Further, it was suggested, “In a league largely populated by players of Caucasian origin, wouldn't this be taking opportunities away from them?

Is this the 21st Century? Are you kidding?

The Thrashers are a profit making enterprise. To contend that they would purposely give any player of African descent an NHL opportunity with no regard for ability or skill is asinine.

There is no doubt that the Atlanta Spirit LLC would be surprised given the fact that they had to seek investors and reduce expenses based on losses last season.

In the 1950-60’s the Montreal Canadiens were a powerhouse in the NHL and fielded a team with a substantial number of French Canadiens in its ranks.

Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bernard Geoffrion, Jacque Plante along with English Canadiens Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson made up a team so powerful that the NHL had to change the rules governing the power play. The Canadians would sometimes score 2-3 goals in two minutes.

Later the first option of drafting of French Canadian players by the Canadians was addressed and eliminated creating an amateur draft system.

In the motion picture” The Rocket” the story of Maurice Richard, French Canadians were discriminated against and unable to sit in the same section with Anglos fans but the team owners and management were astute enough to ignore the discrimination in favor of producing a winning product. The Canadians hold the most Stanley Cup championships of any team in the NHL.

The writer of the article in question appeared to have no knowledge that hockey players of African descent played ice hockey in the Maritime in the early 1900’s.

In a book written by George Fosty called Black Ice, the author who is Caucasian, chronicled the early exploits of black hockey players in professional hockey. Their research confirmed the use of several styles that are now predominant in the NHL.  Both slapshots and the butterfly goaltending styles were regularly on display during that time and utilized frequently by those players.

The point is that black players including Willie O’Ree ,and Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla in addition to many others have long played in the NHL. This so called reversal did not start with the Thrashers this season.

Although small in number versus Anglo players, it is a surety that black players receive no special treatment and no affirmative action in vying for spots on any NHL team and certainly earn their places.

What may be more interesting is how the effect of ridiculous assertions and conversations about affirmative action will affect the black players on the Thrashers?

Will these players want to deal with additional scrutiny and be asked by interviewers “How does it feel to be on a team with so many black players?"

GM Rick Dudley and Coach Craig Ramsey have worked hard to construct a team that is competitive and continues to tinker with chemistry and synergy.

What is next? I guess we will have to wait and see. In Montreal in the 1950's the Canadians found the  best answer, Win Win Win and fill the stadium.

 The Thrashers detractors may want to consider that one.