Being Hopeful About Ending Racism in Hockey, Eventually

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 23: Akim Aliu #29 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on April 23, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 23: Akim Aliu #29 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on April 23, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

I am a white man. I love hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and almost every sport I can think of.

But I am not a black man, nor do I know what it feels like to be black.

These past few months have been eyeopening for myself. Discovering how much racism there was in the world of sports was very shocking.

I knew how much there was, but I didn’t know it would be this much, and especially in the game I grew up watching.

Or maybe I did, I just may have been blind to it.

Growing up as a kid, my parents signed me up for soccer, much before I discovered hockey. These two sports are very different. Not by the way they’re played, but by the people who are in them.

If I could give you one word that massively differentiates the two sports, it’s the word ‘accepting’.

The culture of each sport is different and very well so. Soccer is known all around the world and one of the reasons why I love it so much is becaus of all the cultures that it brings together to one game.

Hockey is different. The culture is different. The people are different.

When I say the culture is different, I’m not lying because you and I both know it is.

As a child I was privileged to play the sport of hockey and to live the life I did, but others were not.

I never made it out of house league hockey when I was young and to be honest with you, I’m glad I never did. Hearing the story of Akim Aliu and many others, I wasn’t surprised about it because even at the level that I played at, I could see it happening somewhere else.

Let’s go back to the word ‘accepting’ for a second, for some context.

As I walked into the dressing room while I was younger, I always felt an unease. It could’ve been me just being me (an introvert who’d much rather stay quiet than talk) or maybe it was the people in the room — ‘the atmosphere’  let’s call it.

One of the reasons why I think racism still exists in hockey today is because of white privilege. The sport isn’t affordable for most to play above house league with some tiers needing you to pay thousands just to play.

Which is why you get a lot of rich white kids. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of them who know what’s right and what’s wrong, but then there are others.

I don’t have to hear a racial slur to find out that there’s racism in hockey, because I can tell just by some people’s attitudes.

They want to be cool. They want to show others they’re the toughest or should I say, “the alpha.”

It’s so hard in this day and age because racism still exists in a lot of coaches and other forms of management on a team. Part of trying to get the racism out of hockey is getting them out of those jobs, which has changed, but not enough.

I am writing this article to help keep the spark alive, to keep the conversation going and to say that I support whatever we have to do to get racism out of the sport of hockey and the entire world.

I’m still young (23), but I’m not naive. It’s possible and it can happen, but it has to be a collective of people.

“This game, it’s not for me. It never has been. And I knew another thing. I had to fight for my life.”

This is a quote from Aliu’s ‘Hockey is Not For Everyone’ story in the players tribune from a month-and-a-half ago. If you don’t believe racism exists in hockey or you think there’s very little, read this because you’ll see a side you may not have seen before.

Things have changed since then. Aliu, Evander Kane and others have started the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which is a group of active and ex-NHL players helping pave the path to the light which is ending racism in hockey.

While part of the problem stems from coaches and others, a lot of the racism comes from how parents raise their kids too.

And I’m not going to sit here and say there isn’t a long way to go because there is.

It will take generations to clean out all of that racism. A lot of it though will come from people like us with white privilege to learn and talk about it.

You have to acknowledge that racism is there, and that’s not just the only move we have to make. Talk to your black friend, watch videos to learn and most importantly, educate yourself.

Racism isn’t just a hockey issue, it’s a global issue. And while we can hope that it will make its way out of hockey, it has to start outside of hockey first.

One of the ways we can help combat racism is always talking about it and like I said before, always learning.

As a white man, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a black person’s shoes, but I know I can be apart of change and more importantly, we can be a part of the change.

dark. Next. Are the Toronto Maple Leafs Building a Dynasty?

Educate yourself, have those uncomfortable conversations and never be afraid to be different — you’re perfect just the way you are.