The Color of Hockey
Ron Jones - McKeen's Hockey
April 8, 2002
The Color of hockey is changing and with that the NHL may be ready to tap into a resource that has been neglected, maybe even ignored. The National Hockey League is starting to regain the momentum it lost after the 1994 - 1995 lockout. Hockey has suffered from being perceived as a sport for upper middle class white people, especially in the United States. There is hope for the future however, as more and more minorities are taking up the game.
The Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla not only has a shot at being nominated for the Hart Trophy, he's the odds on favorite to win it. The league and it's core group of fans should be jumping up for joy with the prospect that arguably for the first time that a visible minority is the best player in hockey. Gary Bettman and his cronies should be thinking of how they could market Iginla to a community that has generally paid little attention to the sport and for good reason.
Most of us follow our favorite sport because we grew up playing and watching it as children and we can relate to it. But for the majority of Hispanic, Asian, and African American kids, winning the Stanley Cup was never a dream, because there was never anyone that they could relate to that played hockey.
In 2000 the New Jersey Devils' Scott Gomez won the Calder Trophy, giving the Hispanic community and especially the kids a new hero. Of course this does not mean that hockey will suddenly become the big sport in the States overnight, but it is a small step to becoming more inclusive.
For the last decade or so the color barrier that has kept so many people away from even giving hockey a chance is starting to crumble. Thanks to a player of Asian descent like Paul Kariya, hockey will never again be considered the exclusive domain of "White Anglo Saxon Protestants". For many years I heard the stereotypes that Asians were not big enough or that Blacks didn't have strong enough ankles to play competitive hockey. This seems laughable now with so many minorities playing in the NHL, however not that long ago the league was essentially an all white sport.
The NHL must take and is taking a role in bringing the game to kids that would not be exposed to it otherwise. Former New York Ranger, Adam Graves was one of the greatest Ambassadors of any sports league. He took an active role bringing the game to the inner city kids of New York. Many of those kids were not and are not part of the typical demographics that the NHL once solely existed on. Many other teams in the States have or are starting their own hockey programs to bring hockey to the people, all people.
(AP) Manny Malholtra is finding a home with the Dallas Stars
Children of all races and genders must be given the opportunity and the encouragement to play hockey, whether that hockey is on ice or on pavement. The argument that hockey costs a lot of money is incorrect. Ice hockey costs a lot of money, but kids can play street or roller hockey almost as inexpensively as basketball.
There are many fine players that are visible minorities and in the next ten years there will be many more to join the likes of Paul Kariya (Anaheim), Donald Brashear (Philadelphia), Anson Carter and Mike Grier (Edmonton), Peter Worrell (Florida), Gino Odjick (Montreal), Manny Malholtra (Dallas), Sandy McCarthy (NY Rangers), Craig Berube (Calgary), Kevin Weekes (Carolina), Scott Gomez (New Jersey), J-luc Grand-pierre (Columbus) and many others.
It is so vital for the long-term health of the NHL that the various visible minorities have role models that they can identify with. An African American child will be more easily drawn to hockey if he or she can relate to some of the players. Of course kids and adults can and do have heroes from other races, but it would help to draw them to the sport in the first place. Michael Jordan was and is as popular with white kids as he is with black kids.
The NHLPA and its members should also be taking a more active role in fostering the game's growth. More of the players should be giving back to the communities in which they work. Why are so few community ice rinks being built, even in Canadian cities? A great opportunity is being missed in the inner cities, during some of those cold long winters with many kids not being able to play outside. The NHLPA and the NHL would get a lot of good press, by at least assisting in building more community ice rinks in which kids could learn to play and love the game at the grass root level!
For hockey to expand their demographics it desperately needs more Ethnic Stars, especially African American and Hispanic. With Jarome Iginla and Scott Gomez's future looking so bright, the NHL is half way there. Maybe one-day race will not matter, but until that day comes, hockey must make a more concerted effort to matter in the lives of all people.
Ron Jones is an Editor/Publisher for mckeenshockey.com