Black Ice

Frozen Out, Jeremy Schaap's ESPN feature on George and Darril Fosty's book, Black Ice.

ARTHUR:

"We fucking dominate all this shit, okay? Basketball, baseball, football, boxing, track, even golf and tennis! And as soon as they make a heated hockey rink, we're gonna take that shit, too!"

-Chris Rock, from his HBO special, Never Scared

The part of this joke that I've always found interesting is the phrase "even golf and tennis." There are two problems with that phrase. Firstly, it implies that golf and tennis were only recently truly integrated through the superstardom and success of Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters. Secondly, it implies that hockey hasn't been truly integrated and is lagging behind sports that exercise tournament play and are seen as traditional 'gentleman's' games. Yes, it's just a joke, but it feeds the common perception that black people don't and never did play hockey.

First off, the tennis color barrier was broken through Grand Slam wins by Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe in 1956 and 1968 respectively. Both were superstars in their time, and frankly, no single win by either Williams sister will be on par with Tiger Woods' historic Masters win in 1997. Oh, and Grant Fuhr, who became the first black player inducted into the hockey hall of fame around the time Chris Rock wrote this joke, well, he was pretty good, too.

In 2004, George and Darril Fosty wrote a book called Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925. The book challenges the whitewashed perceptions of hockey and its history.

More after the jump...

The video above emphasizes the runaway slaves that played in the Colored Hockey League, but the story of Black Ice is the story of the entire Black Canadian community in Halifax, which was composed not only of Underground Railroad passengers but of Black Loyalists from the Revolutionary War and Jamaican immigrants. They all played hockey, and they played it in the same Nova Scotian winters where the Mi'kmaqs invented so much of the sport.

The Fostys argue that the Colored Hockey League pioneered the slapshot and hybrid goaltending, which they integrated into a fast and physical style of play. But unfortunately, their league was short-lived, hampered by economic change, World War I and then the destruction of Halifax in 1917. They rebuilt as the city did, but many players had died or emigrated to the United States. For a time, however, the players and organizers of the Colored Hockey League were able to use the game of hockey as an avenue for social change and social mobility, decades before the negro baseball leagues in America. And in that same time, they managed to give as much to the game as they received, though their story was largely ignored by hockey historians.

That ignorance continued after the Fostys released Black Ice. The book is heavy on history and newspaper accounts of games, which is understandable for a book that tells an untold story, but the tone and pace was perhaps too different from other hockey books for the text to catch a following. It wasn't until the Fostys made a short film of their research in 2008 that the story got its proper attention. The film won the Roxbury Film Festival, beating out shorts produced by Spike Lee and Danny Glover, and it proved that interest in this story exists both in the hockey community and in the black community itself. The book was re-released, and it is now much easier to find.

Again, the text is heavy on history and newspaper accounts, so do not take this article as a recommendation to read it as much as a recommendation to educate yourself on the matter. Suffice to say, the absurd prejudice that black people can't endure the cold, can't skate and can't understand the finer points of hockey is over a century old, but it was soundly disproved a century ago.

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