MLK Day: Like the U.S., NHL Has Made Great Progress

Warren ShawCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2011

a rare picture of Jean Beliveau and Herb Carnegie prior to the start of a Quebec Citadelle contest.
a rare picture of Jean Beliveau and Herb Carnegie prior to the start of a Quebec Citadelle contest.

Our nation will again celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday. If he were alive, Reverend King would probably be proud of America’s progress.

Hockey is no exception.

Despite problems that remain, there is no denying that significant improvement has been achieved.

The racial intolerance that forced Willie O’Ree to be locked in a closet for his protection from irate Chicago fans is a distant memory.

It is a fact that there are more minority children playing some form of hockey than ever before.

More minorities also have grown up playing recreationally. Enthusiasts such as Mr. Mike Beavers, Anthony Davis and Ricky Gist, who have played since they were youth growing up in Detroit, continue to lace up their skates at the age of 51.

Thanks to Canadian hockey researchers like George Fosty, founder of SONAHHR (The Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers) and his book, “Black Ice,” we have discovered that black players have been playing the game on ice for over 100 years.

Few also know that Herb Carnegie, who never made it to the NHL because of the racial bias of the time, was one of the few players ever to outscore the great Jean Beliveau when they both performed together for the Quebec Citadels.

Carnegie was acknowledged by many to be a skater of immense talent with spectacular skating ability.

Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau has commented that he believed Carnegie should have been in the NHL.

The NHL now has several players of African descent who are starting to make a name for themselves.

Jarome Iginla, Dustin Byfuglien, Chris Stewart, Rene Bourque, Evander Kane and hall of famers like Grant Fuhr have started to and have carved out impressive NHL performances on their respective teams. 

Iginla has been the leader of the Calgary Flames for over a decade scoring, fighting and impressively leading the team in the locker room.

Chris Stewart and his sibling Anthony came out of the gate, outscoring everyone on the team, including standout Paul Statsny.

Dustin Byfuglien was traded from Chicago and moved to the blueline, where his skating ability and searing shot have made him a star in Atlanta.

Rene Bourque has significantly improved his game each year and is the secondary threat on the Calgary team roster.  

Evander Kane has been a standout performer since his early days of minor hockey and as a top draft choice in the NHL at 19, he has the talent and physical presence to be a NHL star.

In his book Fosty, who is white said:

“Runaway American slaves, helped pioneer the sport of ice hockey changing this winter game from the primitive 'gentleman's past-time' of the nineteenth century to the modern fast moving game of today. In an era when many believed blacks could not endure cold, possessed ankles too weak to effectively skate, and lacked the intelligence for organized sport, these men defied the defined myths.

"The first recorded mention of all-Black hockey teams appears in 1895. Games between Black club teams were arranged by formal invitation. By 1900, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes had been created, headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Despite hardships and prejudice, the league would exist until the mid-1920s. Historically speaking,

"The Colored Hockey League was like no other hockey or sports league before or since. Primarily located in a province, reputed to be the birthplace of Canadian hockey, the league would in time produce a quality of player and athlete that would rival the best of White Canada. Such was the skill of the teams that they would be seen by as worthy candidates for local representation in the annual national quest for Canadian hockey's ultimate prize - the Stanley Cup."

Although black hockey players have been around for centuries, many fans still have very little knowledge of the exploits of these players.

Martin Luther King dream has taken several positive steps toward being realized and the game of hockey is not holding up the process.