the nhl in review
2013-14 season
team 23 of 30

professional hockey is a white sport


A couple of things happened earlier that I want to talk about:

1)Sandy Banks, an LA Times columnist, made a joke about how notorious racist and generally terrible human being Donald Sterling, who owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, should instead buy a hockey team so he “won’t have to worry about black superstars”.

2)Puck Daddy described this as “unconscionable racial ignorance” and proceeded to post pictures of six black hockey players and noted hockey fan Cuba Gooding, Jr. The article concluded with Ms. Banks’s email address and twitter handle, which I’m sure Puck Daddy’s notoriously thoughtful and open-minded commentariat utilised carefully. I’m not going to link the article because that’s actually all it said.

3)I went through the online published rosters of every NHL team and found that there are forty-one players of colour, including nineteen black players, out of 886 guys who played an NHL game this season. That makes for under five per cent players of colour, and just over two per cent black players. Six out of thirty teams had no non-white players, and fourteen out of thirty teams had no black players. The most non-white players on a team was four (Montreal & Winnipeg), and the most black players on a team was two (Anaheim, Philadelphia & Winnipeg). Of the nineteen black players, it would be laughable to characterise any beyond Iginla or Subban as superstars.

(Obviously this methodology isn’t perfect: I’m sure there are players whose racial background isn’t apparent/known, and I couldn’t count call-ups/demoted players like Darren Archibald, Mathew Dumba, Jordin Tootoo, etc. I’m definitely open to suggestions about how to be more accurate about this. The NHL certainly doesn’t publish numbers, and I don’t believe it keeps them.)

A joke about the lack of black players in the NHL - as opposed to the NBA, which has had, I believe, between 70 and 80 per cent black players at any given time in recent history - is certainly supported by the numbers. To suggest that the existence of Jarome Iginla and PK Subban obviates the fact that you can watch almost half a league’s worth of games without seeing a single black hockey player is willful blindness, at best, and deliberate obfuscation, at worst.

Puck Daddy editor-in-chief/author of the article Greg Wyshynski responded to me: “You of all people [ed: “of all people” hahaha textbook] understand soci-economic and cultural barriers in place that prevent hockey from reaching some audiences. To defend a statement that hockey is absent blacks, therefore safe haven for a racist, is abhorrent. But at least you own it.”

Yup, I own it. There are a couple of things to unpack here. First of all, I have no idea how the first sentence flows logically into the second sentence. There are tons of socioeconomic and cultural barriers in place that prevent hockey from reaching some audiences - an unwillingness to acknowledge that the NHL is almost exclusively a league of white players is one of those barriers. “Welcome to this hockey game, black fan! None of the players on the ice look like you, but you can sit with Cuba Gooding, Jr.!”

Second, the original joke basically just said that hockey is an overwhelmingly white sport - even if you don’t want to read my numbers, this is patently obvious if you have, I don’t know, ever watched some hockey games. To deny this is “unconscionable racial ignorance”. Luckily, as Greg Wyshynski himself recognized in a Puck Daddy article from January 2014: “Hockey’s long been the butt of “Stuff White People Like” jokes, and like any good joke there’s an element of truth to it.” (Note to Greg: it’s not actually a good joke.)

Third, recently released Nielsen numbers suggest that hockey watchers are overwhelmingly, over 90 per cent, white. As the article notes, Nielsen numbers are skewed because they count people who have televisions and pay for cable - ie, people with money (aka old white people). Still, even building in an extremely healthy margin of error, the people watching hockey on tv are mostly white. No denying this either.

Fourth, the people behind the benches in hockey and the people in the front offices in hockey are also…wait for it…white. There was a furor in the hockey community in February 2013 when Jarmo Kekäläinen was hired by Columbus as their General Manager, because he was the League’s first European General Manager. Columbus were hailed as revelatory innovators because they hired a different kind of middle-aged white man to lead their team. That’s not a joke - it really happened. There are currently no NHL general managers of colour.

This season, when Ted Nolan’s Buffalo Sabres played Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers, it was the first time in NHL history that two coaches of colour faced one another in a game. Nolan and Berube are the only two coaches of colour currently in the NHL.

Wikipedia also informs me: “As of the 2010-11 NHL season, the only African American player agent is Eustace King.” I have no way of verifying if this was true, or if it remains true, but I’m certain that Wikipedia would never lie to us - and I think you take my point.

Disregarding the fact that pretty much everywhere in the world is a safe haven for a rich, powerful white man with bigoted views, and disregarding all of hockey’s race issues (whether or not you think they exist - which I will discuss in another article because this one is already too long), these are the facts. NHL hockey is a sport run by white men, played by white men, and watched by mostly white people. Acknowledging this might make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it not true.

“He’s a typical goalie — a little weird.” -Matt Dumba