HOCKEY MUST CON­FRONT ITS RACISM

National Post (National Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - LLOYD WILKS Lloyd Wilks is chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Coun­selQuest Inc., a leader in lit­i­ga­tion sup­port and cor­po­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions, an ac­tive mem­ber of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Black Lawyers and co-founder of Malachy’s Soiree, an an­nual fundraiser

Hockey and Canada are syn­ony­mous with each other — street hockey, ball hockey, ice hockey, shinny, sledge hockey or any other kind of hockey. It’s our game, a game that unites. For many com­mu­ni­ties in Canada, the re­la­tion­ships that come with hockey are some of the most sig­nif­i­cant life­time re­la­tion­ships for an in­di­vid­ual, in­ter­twined within ev­ery­day life and foun­da­tional to a per­son’s sense of be­long­ing, be­ing wel­comed, their iden­tity and strength. They ground them­selves in the col­lec­tive force of be­ing on a team.

Hockey is a game that is open to ev­ery­one re­gard­less of race, age, gen­der or re­li­gion. It is ev­ery­one’s game. Right? Not re­ally. We can­not ig­nore the un­com­fort­able and sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers that ex­ist be­cause of race and af­ford­abil­ity.

For many Black and racial­ized peo­ple, be­ing a part of hockey is a mark of ac­com­plish­ment, a rec­og­niz­able badge, a dis­play of en­durance in pur­suit of a dream. Not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause they be­lieve their next step is the NHL but mostly be­cause those in­di­vid­u­als have been brave enough to en­dure the racial abuse that is so of­ten as­so­ci­ated with hockey cul­ture and its tough­nosed, no-non­sense big­otry.

Hockey should never be a com­fort­able or a safe place for a racist. Hockey must be a zero-tol­er­ance game for racism and those who can­not fit within that mould, the racists, need to move on and just fade away. If that premise up­sets you — too bad for you. We need to rec­og­nize the brand new world that we are in: a new game with new play­ers and new rules and change that is ac­cel­er­at­ing and plow­ing for­ward. Ei­ther keep up or get out of the way. Trans­for­ma­tion is ar­riv­ing, and hockey needs to progress, to be bet­ter and do bet­ter.

Though built on fair play, hockey has not been im­mune to racism. Anti-Black racism was com­mon­place, its ideas and be­liefs al­lowed to flour­ish, scat­tered like a truck­load of seeds. To deny racism’s ex­is­tence in hockey, in the past and to­day, would be em­i­nently wrong. Just look up the story of the great Herb Carnegie and the Que­bec Aces. My fa­ther knew Carnegie — one of Canada’s greatest play­ers, a Black Ja­maican man. He was barred from play­ing in the NHL due to the colour of his skin. To be blind to hockey’s con­nec­tion to racist bul­ly­ing rants is to be an en­abler, the naysay­ers and de­niers of the bla­tant truth, the one’s who will tell you, “I was just kid­ding and hav­ing some fun.” Or make that ex­cuse for another.

Imag­ine for a mo­ment, be­ing a Black child, im­pres­sion­able, cu­ri­ous and naive, like many chil­dren grow­ing up in Canada to­day. You are sit­ting in a hockey rink. It’s your first time on skates. You are old enough to get your skates on but lack the strength re­quired to tighten them. Thank­fully, you get the as­sis­tance from another child’s fa­ther who offers some much-needed help. With your laces now tied, you are now ready to go. The ex­cite­ment is build­ing but be­fore you set off, the fa­ther offers this tip: “Skat­ing is hard. It’s not your fault. You see, you are Black, and peo­ple like you are faulty right here.” He pointed to my an­kles. “Your an­kles are weak, so it might not be much fun, and you’ll prob­a­bly fall and fail. Black peo­ple aren’t re­ally made for hockey.”

I wouldn’t blame a child and don’t blame my­self for be­liev­ing a myth like this. Imag­ine racism mas­querad­ing to a child as kind­ness. It’s as­ton­ish­ing and aw­ful. But it hap­pens.

The truth is I was never a great skater or hockey player. I’m not sure how much that tip had to do with my view on the sport, but I con­tinue to love the great game.

Hockey and racism have long shared a trou­bled his­tory for many Black and racial­ized peo­ple. I came to un­der­stand the power of so many dis­taste­ful re­marks, de­liv­ered from the view­ing stands and side­lines, in rinks right across this coun­try, doc­u­mented and dis­cussed in the media, per­sonal tes­ti­mo­ni­als and through­out locker rooms across Canada for decades.

In the fight against racism, oc­ca­sion­ally some of us are of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence. Black and racial­ized peo­ple may be strangers to you, their predica­ments (in­clud­ing their hockey ex­pe­ri­ences) un­fa­mil­iar to you, which is why it is even more im­por­tant and ur­gent that you hear about them di­rectly from those of us who breathe through, ex­ist in and sur­vive them.

Early 2020, a good friend in­vited me to a Cal­gary Flames game. I had ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion with­out hes­i­ta­tion and was thrilled about the prospect of en­joy­ing our “beau­ti­ful Cana­dian game.” Prepped and primed with en­thu­si­asm, I was then brought down with dis­gust and dis­tress upon read­ing the al­le­ga­tions con­cern­ing the now dis­graced for­mer Cal­gary Flames coach and his racist at­tacks on for­mer NHLer Akim Aliu. Yet again, another ex­am­ple of the in­ten­tional de­struc­tion of a Black man’s dreams and the sys­temic racism faced by him.

I ex­plained to my friend that, while I looked for­ward to one day cheer­ing on the Cal­gary Flames, as a Black man while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­fold­ing, de­spite how re­spected and revered the coach was, I could not, and would not, at­tend any game while he re­mained on the bench.

Fast for­ward, with hockey now back, I am pleased to see that nec­es­sary and im­por­tant changes are tak­ing place.

The Hockey Di­ver­sity Al­liance (HDA) is be­ing launched, made up of cur­rent and for­mer NHL hockey play­ers, with the aim of erad­i­cat­ing sys­temic racism and racial in­tol­er­ance in hockey, and ad­dress­ing grow­ing con­cerns around ac­cess, ice time and af­ford­abil­ity. The HDA is com­mit­ted to in­spir­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of hockey play­ers and fans with the sup­port of the NHL and NHL fran­chises.

Hockey’s con­stituents, its con­sumers, like me, and its most valu­able as­sets — the play­ers — de­mand that its lead­ers step for­ward to help make the sport become bet­ter for ev­ery­one. I am pleased to see the HDA is co-headed by Akim Aliu and Evan­der Kane and sup­ported by other NHL play­ers and the wider move­ment to end anti-Black racism, in­clud­ing Trevor Da­ley, Matt Dumba, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Ste­wart and Joel Ward.

Pre­sented with a choice, these piv­otal mo­ments af­ford each of us the mo­men­tary op­por­tu­nity to let our voices be heard to ef­fect change. We should all sup­port the HDA, and more im­por­tantly hockey across Canada, in achieving goals of equal­ity and re­spect for all.

Through these move­ments of change, I be­lieve that each of us are pre­sented with a choice and an op­por­tu­nity to become Sa­mar­i­tans to the fu­ture of so­ci­ety and our most cher­ished institutio­ns, which are so badly and ur­gently in need of re­flec­tion. Root­ing out anti-Black racism in a mean­ing­ful, rev­o­lu­tion­ary and sus­tained way is the change we should be seek­ing out and de­mand­ing. I of­ten re­mind my­self that when I have done noth­ing to strike the blow against the screed of ig­no­rance that de­nies sys­temic racism ex­ists, I am left drown­ing in re­gret and shame. One of the first in­vest­ments that I made for my chil­dren were swim­ming lessons, against the pop­u­lar and out­dated stereo­type that Black peo­ple can’t swim. I refuse to drown. I refuse to let my kids drown. I refuse to wit­ness another Ge­orge Floyd drown. Our shoul­ders are broad, our an­kles are strong and our hearts and minds are com­mit­ted to progress and change and equal­ity, and we will not ac­cept anything less. To the brave NHLers who choose to kneel in sol­i­dar­ity, we see you, we thank you and hope you will do more to lend your voice to this im­por­tant bat­tle. The fight con­tin­ues.

COUR­TESY OF BER­NICE CARNEGIE

Herb Carnegie, a Black Ja­maican man, was barred from play­ing in the NHL be­cause of his skin colour.

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