Is Hockey For Everyone In The Age of Cherry and Tortorella?
June 6, 2021 7:42 AM   Subscribe

The NHL Says ‘Hockey Is For Everyone.’ Black Players Aren’t So Sure. This is about how overwhelmingly white professional hockey is and whether Black Canadians and Black Americans feel safe playing hockey while adapting in a very conformist culture that does not support the same level of activism like NFL and NBA....several coaches like John Tortorella who changed their anthem kneeling stance reluctantly...... posted by Broncos 1999 (21 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there something new in the hockey world? Both of these articles are from 2020; I was hoping there were 2021-era updates.
posted by ChrisR at 9:34 AM on June 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

No, not much. Although Don Cherry was forced to resign, his mentality exists in the hockey brass and coaching. They are very anti-kneeling, etc.
posted by Broncos 1999 at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Although there is obviously a tremendous amount of work to be done, esp. structural work, there actually is quite a bit happening and conversations happening. The Black Girl Hockey Club (website and Twitter) is a good place to start, particularly their Twitter feed. Including their Get Uncomfortable campaign. The Player's Tribune article by NWHL player, Saroya Tinker from earlier this year provides some useful context. Relatedly, this article by Al Montoya is also a great read.
posted by skye.dancer at 9:57 AM on June 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'd like to think things are changing in hockey. I stopped watching the game for years--let's be honest, this is an entertainment product as much as anything. The pandemic has me in front of a screen much more than usual, and the relegating of regular season play to the restricted divisions has yielded a fun season watching the "Canadian" teams play each other. I got sucked into the 100-point season with Connor McDavid (and the progress of his colleague, "German Gretzky" Leon Draisaitl). I had long phone calls with a brother in Ontario, watching Habs games together.

The composition of NHL teams has changed, and as an entertainment product I have hope the owners and executive types see the need to make this product appealing beyond a type of white male. The Oilers feature players with names: Yamamoto, Khaira, Nurse (and faces that might not be "the typical" for hockey). Back in the 70s, it was still a bit exotic to see more than a small percentage of representation from some European nations. Can we remember the "Russian invasion" with Detroit's roster in the 90s?

My fear is that enough people making the decisions about this sport/product will determine that hockey's base must be a type of white male, and they double down on modeling the product in a certain way. On the other hand, my nieces (both visibly Asian) have been playing hockey for years, and the future of hockey is importantly a future of diversity and more representation in all ways. Let's keep hoping, let's keep supporting this as fans! Oh, and Don Cherry.. yes he just got disappeared, but look at how fast it finally did happen. Look at how quickly Ron MacLean apologized/clarified re: the Kevin Bieksa shirtless jest. Look at the excellent panel commentary from women in hockey during the HNIC broadcasts. I am seeing positive signs.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yes, hockey is an overwhelmingly white male sport because it is played by middle upper class Europeans in Canada, America and other cold climates; Wayne Gretzky popularized hockey in the Sun Belt when he came to the LA Kings after marrying his actress wife in 1988; Gretzky did not want to play in Edmonton anymore where he won 4 Stanley Cups in the 1980s.....

The NHL has ties to crazy white male figures like Eric Trump, Kid Rock, Dave Portnoy (Barstool) and Boomer Esiason, a former NFL quarterback who is a big hockey fan as well.....
posted by Broncos 1999 at 11:58 AM on June 6, 2021

still wiping away a tear at the dearth of French-Canadian players these days…
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:11 PM on June 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Tampa Bay started three black forwards earlier this year, Daniel Walcott, Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith. A nice quote in the article: "First of all, they're all in the NHL for a reason," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "They deserve to be here and have worked their tails off. To have them all together, they had a little chemistry. Moving forward in the league, you hope it isn't a story anymore and will be the norm. It was a pretty cool moment for all those guys."
posted by beaning at 12:48 PM on June 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has installed a new exhibition case dedicated to hockey. On view in the "Sports: Leveling the Playing Field" gallery, the exhibition explores hockey's early history and Black athletes' contributions, which extend to the late 19th century. Alongside the hockey case is a new statue honoring the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL), Willie O'Ree.
Also check out The Color Of Hockey - Hockey for Fans and Players of Color .
posted by gudrun at 4:38 PM on June 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

My brother is an occasional host for a weekly hockey broadcast, Hockey Time Machine. A couple of weeks ago their topic was inclusion.
posted by obol at 4:45 PM on June 6, 2021

It's not just the players they sign and put on the ice, though--it's also all of the ways that prejudices and subjectivity get built into narratives that affect actual hiring decisions, in-game calls, and player discipline, too. It's always struck me that professional hockey has an even stronger (supposed) ethos against "showboating" than football and sometimes even baseball--in ways that make it easy to manufacture grievances against the villain of the day, or to find reasons that a player "just isn't a fit."
posted by pykrete jungle at 4:54 PM on June 6, 2021

The San Jose Sharks are trying to reflect the diversity of the SF Bay Area. While there is an enormous amount of work to be done, I'm hopeful that conversations can be followed up with meaningful changes.

The Sharks 2021 Diversity warm-up jersey was designed by Terry Smith, a black artist who created the team's 1991 initial logo.

The Sharks' Evander Kane has collaborated with other athletes of color to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which appears to be calling out the NHL's lack of action on this issue.

The Sharks have had a relatively diverse roster of players of color over the past 30 years, including Kane, Joel Ward, Mike Grier, Jonathan Cheechoo (Cree) and Devin Setoguchi (Japanese/Canadian).
posted by JDC8 at 6:59 PM on June 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how you could overlook the recent racism against Ethan Bear while prepping this post. It reinforces that the NHL and its fans have a long way to go. It will likely take a generation to make the shift, but things are progressing and I'm optimistic.

It's worth mentioning that Canadian demographics do not mirror the USA, Canada has 22% visible minorities and only 3% of Canadians identify as black. We're far from even matching those numbers, but there is a lot of hope. I'm watching the Avs/Knights game right now and when I looked up I saw Pierre Edouard Bellemare, and then Ryan Reeves shows up right after. My son's favourite player is PK Subban. As a hurtin' Albertan I'm an Oilers fan and Darnell Nurse is a strong contender for the Norris Trophy (best defensemen), Jujhar Khaira is of Punjab descent (and after a decade of doing Hockey Night In Canada Punjabi Edition, Harnarayan Singh is now also announcing on the main English broadcast), and Kyler Yamamoto is Japanese American and the above mentioned Ethan Bear is of Cree descent. So you've got 17% of the Oilers roster that's visible minorities, and that's not counting our German, Finish, Czech, Swiss, Swedish or Danish players. This is more than tokenism, it's a shift.

I'd say diversity, while nascent, is beginning to flourishing in the NHL, and I think most fans are on board. Getting rid of Don Cherry, which was long overdue, was a significant first step. A sign of things to come: I've been managing a minor hockey team for 5 years now and 1/3 of the players are visible minorities and we've had 2-4 coaches/assitant coaches that were visible minorities as well. One game one of the Japanese coaches managed to put together a line of 5 Japanese kids, he thought it would be a really special moment, but the kids didn't even notice! We'll get there yet.
posted by furtive at 8:28 PM on June 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

I always get confused when I see hockey mentioned on Metafilter, but then I remember, they call it field hockey in the US and Canada.
posted by Pendragon at 5:32 AM on June 7, 2021

What do you think of hockey coach John Tortorella's aggressive stance on kneeling? He hates it, but changed course after the Floyd murder

posted by Broncos 1999 at 6:20 AM on June 7, 2021

What do you think of hockey coach John Tortorella's aggressive stance on kneeling?

I don't really have words to describe my dislike of Torts. Like, maybe Tom Wilson, is the only person involved in the NHL that is on my list above him. He claims his stance is based on his son being a Ranger, but I also believe that you'll find there are a lot of us who are military family members who understand that our family fights for the freedom to protest. It's not NHL players jobs to help Torts wave his personal patriotism. Especially given the international diversity of the league. (And I hope to god he doesn't show up in Seattle, mark my words.)
posted by librarianamy at 7:15 AM on June 7, 2021

The problems with hockey (and overt racism in the hockey-playing regions of North America) go deep. Too often I see stories about PoC players or First Nations teams being heckled and abused by both players on the ice and parents in the stands, with the kicker being the league or tournament organizers being informed and doing nothing about it.

Hockey has an acknowledging racism problem because small-town Quebec or Nova Scotia or Cental Ontario or Minnesota have an acknowledging racism problem.
posted by thecjm at 9:19 AM on June 7, 2021

skye.dancer repped the Black Girls Hockey Club earlier. Dap to ESPN hockey writer Emily Kaplan (her hockey coverage is always first-rate), who today published an article reflecting on the rapid rise of BGHC from its founder, Renee Hess.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 11:58 AM on June 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

No disagreement with any criticisms at hockey: all 100% valid and pervasive in the game today. I'm also happy to see others in this thread share the hope and the change that *is happening* in the sport.. On the one hand, you see the shit slinging at Ethan Bear, on the other hand look at the club's response: unequivocal support for Bear, and no mixed messages on his role in the team now and moving forward. You have his name in Cree syllabics, and a custom jersey that was selling out repeatedly. I see these as small signs, often purely symbolic, but if you were watching this game 20, 30 years ago: significant. In fact, the dismissal of Don Cherry was so emphatic, and the tone of commentary during interludes in play has shifted significantly.

Ultimately my problems with hockey stem as much with the whole bread-and-circuses aspect, the way players earn insane incomes and it's more and more a sport for elites (in every sense of that word). Poor kids are not going to find their way to an NHL rink very easily. But a good hockey game is so darn fun to watch, it is such a fast game and I do enjoy the spectacle. I totally get how it's largely a matter of "cheering for laundry" at this point, also.
posted by elkevelvet at 12:11 PM on June 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Of interest: the Carnegie Initiative was just announced today (6/9/2021), with the goal of ensuring more inclusive culture in hockey. "It's the spirit that has inspired The Carnegie Initiative, a just-announced, not-for-profit platform named in Herb Carnegie's honor. It seeks to promote the growth of hockey and ensure opportunity in the sport. What makes this effort unique is that it isn't tied to any hockey governing body; it's an independent initiative that will seek to tackle large issues in diversity while also being nimble enough to address specific community issues in a way that entities like the NHL cannot."
posted by skye.dancer at 12:02 PM on June 9, 2021

For folks still following this topic, this article just popped up on my Twitter timeline that might be of interest: 1 year after creation of Hockey Diversity Alliance, Akim Aliu sees signs of change.
posted by skye.dancer at 8:16 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

San Jose Sharks Juneteenth resources page; the image was drawn by a Sharks Account Manager, Mohamed Fofana.
posted by JDC8 at 11:38 AM on June 17, 2021

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