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Is Hockey Really for Everyone?

Sharks Forward Evander Kane speaks out about racism in the NHL.
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Sharks Forward Evander Kane speaks out about racism in the NHL

On August 28, the San Jose Sharks’ forward Evander Kane shared a comment, left by a fan, on his recent Instagram post. The fan was telling the 10-year National Hockey League veteran to stick to basketball. Kane stands out on the ice not only due to his physical play and scoring prowess, but also because of his ethnicity.

Kane is the only player who openly identifies as black on the Sharks roster and is one of only a handful of active black players in the NHL.

Kane responded to the post by reaffirming his belief that racism surrounding the NHL needs to be more thoroughly addressed.

“This exact thing was shouted at me in the penalty box in Denver during game 4,” Kane wrote on Instagram. “It’s racially motivated. It’s a problem in society and in sports. There is a focus on racism in football, basketball and baseball but in the hockey world it’s easier to ignore, dismiss and forget because let’s face the facts; hockey is a white sport.”

Kane’s remarks point to the fact that although the NHL was never officially segregated when it was founded, it wasn’t until 1957 when Willie O’Ree took to the ice for the Boston Bruins that a black player played. Even after O’Ree broke through the unspoken color barrier, there was never an influx of black players in the league.

“There is a focus on racism in football, basketball and baseball but in the hockey world it’s easier to ignore, dismiss and forget because let’s face the facts; hockey is a white sport.”

Evander Kane

According to a 2016 survey by TD Ameritrade, parents generally spend $100 to $499 per month on youth sports. The San Jose Junior Sharks list on their website costs of $1,800 to $6,900 for a full season of hockey depending on age that typically lasts around six months. The median income for a family household in the U.S. is approximately $77,000 per the Census Bureau while for black families, the median is only around $40,000. This adds yet another opportunity barrier for young black players to participate in youth hockey.

In addition to the upfront cost, there are constant purchases needed to maintain sporting equipment and replace broken gear. This massive price presents an additional difficulty for families in minority groups who historically may not have the disposable income to support the financial burden of hockey for their children.

If the financial support and skill are present to allow a player of color to make their way through the youth hockey system into the NHL, players tend to have experiences similar to that of Kane.

After scoring a game-winning playoff goal in 2012, Joel Ward was the subject of racial bigotry on social media. Also in 2012, two-time All-Star Wayne Simmonds had a banana thrown at him during a pre-season game in London, Ontario.

In 2018, Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly was the victim of several fans chanting ‘basketball’ at him while he was in the penalty box, suggesting the black winger was in the wrong sport.

These overt displays of racism within the NHL fanbase prove that there is still a long way to go to educate and diversify fans of the sport. While some fans may complain that players are speaking about their experiences, the only way to improve matters will be through players like Kane speaking out and bringing attention to the problem.

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