Speculation on when Ray Emery will start for the Ducks continues to grow, and while another strong start from Dan Ellis makes that event harder to place, one assumes it's only a matter of time with Jonas Hiller still sidelined by vertigo. I've pointed out before that Emery will be the first black player to suit up for Anaheim in the regular season, and he'll do it in a year when the team drafted African American Emerson Etem and African Canadian Devante Smith-Pelly.
Arthur, we've discussed black hockey players before, and you've made your feelings on the absurdity of the lingering prejudice clear, but do you think Ray Emery's start is a noteworthy event, as the first black player to suit up for the Ducks, or do you think it should be treated like a non-story?
I've been fortunate enough to interview Emerson Etem as well as Devante Smith-Pelly this season, and I broached this subject with them. It wasn't a big deal for Smith-Pelly, and while Etem cited addressing the lack of diversity in the league as a personal goal, he also noted that he probably got more flak for being from California than he ever did for being black. And I think the responses that Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya and Anthony Stewart gave when the issue was broached with them should encourage us not to treat this as though it's a modern Jackie Robinson situation or anything like that. Though, I would caution anyone hoping to take that as a cue to ignore the issue and assume that we live in a post-racial society. Ultimately, black players have a history in the sport, and that should be acknowledged long before it's treated as an oddity or novelty.
However, for Anaheim specifically, I think we have to remember that the franchise was built on the back of a Japanese Canadian hockey player, and on the idea that Paul Kariya was a superstar who matched the diversity of the surrounding community. It would be disingenuous for this franchise, specifically, to brush away the importance of having its first player of any ethnic or racial group wear the team's colors. It takes very little for hockey to gain traction with this generation, as Snoop Doggy Dogg's presence during the Cup run at the urging of his son well evidences. How much more does it do for the sport's local popularity to have that first face-- that first face that hopefully becomes commonplace in the near future --make it to the ice?
For Smith-Pelly, growing up in the Greater Toronto area, everyone played hockey. So, were this the first time an African Canadian suited up for some Canadian expansion team, of course I would say that we should be true to their history in the sport and NOT treat it as a noteworthy event AT ALL. However, for the Ducks, I think it's something that should be highlighted as a sign of things to come.
When I first started my speech career, a friend of mine did a speech on the curse of the Bambino. His argument focused on the elements that caused the Red Sox to struggle for those 80+ years. One fact that stuck with me was that the Sox were the last team to integrate. I'm not saying there's been an active attempt by the Ducks to keep Blacks out of the roster, rather that racism has become something that we readily accept with thinly veiled excuses.
Having said that. I think that having a Black player in the line up is a HUGE deal. I was hoping it would be last night, so that I could be there for this historic event. Unfortunately, I had to settle for Dan Ellis having another solid performance backstopping the Ducks to a win. Should I write that in italics? Still, having grown up in California, I have my doubts about Orange County's ability to be accepting. People will do almost anything to be racist, without being called racist. The misinformed debate about undocumented immigrants is a clear indication of that fact. Etem and Smith-Pelley are good, but like most young kids, they will struggle. When that happens, how much slack will Anaheim fans really cut them?
I liked Paul Kariya, because I liked Paul Kariya. However, I like Scott Gomez because he's a Latino. Last Summer, I had students tell me they took my class because I had a Spanish surname. Groups tend to favor their own members. I'm not Black, but I think that Latinos and Blacks have both struggled. Still, it would be encouraging to see a not-white player wearing that sweater on the ice and contributing to the betterment of a franchise to which I have dedicated more than a decade and a half of fan-love.
The complications of race relations are frustrating to a lot of people, especially those who benefit from racism but believe they don't. Having a person of color would go a long way to expanding the fan base in an already expanding hockey market. More importantly, it sends an overall message of acceptance. Maybe this is a step in the right direction. No matter what you think of the level of racism in this country, we should never stop celebrating victories by people of color, no matter how mundane they might seem. A post-racial society is not something for which we should strive. We should always celebrate difference, and strive for acceptance. As such, we should celebrate the Ducks playing a Black player. It means that the diversity of the sport has grown to an extent where the number of hockey players of color is growing to the extent that no team will be able to say that it has never had a Black player lace up for them.