Arthur, in your recent interview with Emerson Etem, you discovered that his oft-reported experience with racism while playing with the US National Development team was an isolated incident. Despite his time playing hockey in California, Minnesota, Canada and Michigan, the color of his skin was an issue all of once on the ice.
However, not everyone is so lucky, as evidenced by the recent controversy with Ontario Minor Hockey Association Coach Greg Walsh, who pulled his team from the ice after an opposing player hurled the N-word at a member of is team and no apology was made.
At the Entry Draft this year, Anaheim's second and third picks were Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly, the first a potential African-American NHL star and the second a highly touted African-Canadian power forward, both viable prospects and perhaps faces of the future for this franchise. That, in addition to the fact that diversifying participation in the sport is a stated goal for Ducks' first rounder Etem. Arthur, we talk a lot about the growth of hockey, how important do you think tolerance and diversity are in achieving that goal?
They are the MOST important goals. Hockey gains nothing by reinforcing perceptions that it is a gated community when it comes to race, or even the completely ridiculous perceptions that black people don't or can't play hockey, something that was disproved over a century ago.
Now, I know this was just trash talk, and trash talk often crosses lines of social decency, but you can't send the message that a rink is a place where it's okay to hurl the N-word at someone. You can't tell a kid that a vitriolic epithet which would normally incite violence on the street is protected speech in a hockey rink. That's a dangerous precedent for everyone, including the racist kids hoping to use the word, the victims of its usage and the minority players thinking about taking up the sport.
I recently joked with you about the movie Pride, which told the story of an African-American swim team in Philadelphia, noting that not every story about racist white people should be optioned into a film. But if I were to approach the issue seriously, then you have to consider that, until a sport demonstrates its diversity, or at least opens its doors, it deprives itself of the full breadth of talent available to it. No, not every story is as big as Jackie Robinson, but every story is about the moment that that sport finally opened its doors, and by that, the minds of its fans and participants. You don't ever want to be considered a sport that hasn't truly done that yet.
Yes, it's important that young minority players have had Grant Fuhr, Paul Kariya or Manny Malhotra to look up to, but it's just as important that we get to see them play. The game itself is better for their participation, even if they don't draw a single additional child to the rink.
First, I'd like to take a second to congratulate Mr. Walsh. He did the right thing, and he shouldn't be suspended a single day.
Marginalization is a very sensitive issue, primarily because we refuse to confront the reality of it. I am very comfortable saying that we should be intolerant of intolerance. I'd also like to say that, as a person of color, I know that not everyone can understand the mental pressures and maneuvers necessary to survive in a culture to which you clearly do not belong.
This is at the core of answering this question. Sports identity in America is a little peculiar. Hockey is clearly seen as 'a white sport,' but this creates a two-fold problem. One, young kids of color will be hesitant to join a sport where they think they will not be welcome. Two, there is also pressure on young athletes of color to participate in sports with which they can identify culturally.
We've all participated in this stereotype. Young black kids probably gauge their own sense of cultural pride on how well they can play basketball or football. Young Latinos think they should play baseball or soccer. That keeps children of color out of hockey rinks. If hockey programs everywhere can enact the type of tolerance and acceptance that battle those factors, then they have a better shot of growing their sport in marginalized communities.
So, why is getting people of color important to the expansion of hockey? Honestly, because they tend to be poorer than whites. Not only is hockey seen as a white sport in many areas but also a rich one. Hockey equipment is expensive. If we can be real for a second, there are more poor people than rich people, and they are disproportionately people of color.
Sports is an escape. It's a dream. At the risk of revealing how much I love Marx, the proletariat are most in need of that escape. Hockey might not be able to make people richer, but if it demonstrates that it can be accepting, then it will put itself on par with the other athletic escapes and create more fans amongst people of color, who might then teach the game to a younger generation.