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Black NHLers Making Their Mark In The NHL Playoffs

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Ronald Martinez

This weekend, Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made racist remarks that overshadowed the games played. Almost two years ago to the date, the NHL suffered a black eye as hockey fans used racist insults against Joel Ward after he scored a series winning goal.

As this is a college sports blog, I could talk about how Donald Sterling's remarks are strikingly similar to the NCAA's statements on student athletes, especially this part:

I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have-Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

Or, I could talk about the juxtaposition of the lack of outrage of known covert racist Donald Sterling owning a team versus the outrage once he is outed as an overt racist, with the recent Supreme Court ruling on race-blind admissions practices.

But instead, I am just going to write about NHL hockey because I am inspired by the black NHLers who are overcoming the odds and making a huge impact in the NHL this year.

Black NHLers are near and dear to my heart, as a young black kid raised in the suburbs and falling in love with hockey. Growing up, there was a sense that black people didn't belong in hockey. I have memories of jumping into my dad's arms, celebrating together when the Bills won a big game, but when Derek Plante's slapshot trickled past the Senator's goalie and over the goal line, I celebrated alone.

When attending games, to this day, I hear the comments, "a black guy?", as I walk through the concourse in my (now outdated) Vanek jersey. And of course, the Joel Ward Twitter incident stung me hard as I heard the N-word, after every slash or check thrown at a white kid who until then had no exposure to black people.

Black NHLers likely had to deal with all of that and more as they fought upstream to excel in a traditionally white sport. There are still issues, overt issues like the Joel Ward incident, but also covert issues, like the perception of Flyers teammates Giroux and Simmonds. I feel Claude Giroux is marketed as an elite scorer, and the Philadelphia Flyers best goal scorer, while Wayne Simmonds is marketed as the gritty power forward. I think it would surprise many people to know that over the past three seasons, Simmonds has scored 72 goals, three more goals than Giroux.

However, there has been more good news recently than bad, Black skaters Seth Jones and Darnell Nurse were selected 4th and 7th overall respectively in the NHL entry draft. Jones the son of a basketball player and Nurse the nephew of a football player, both men fell in love with hockey and chose the "coolest game on earth" as their profession.

In the first-round of the playoffs, black NHLers have made big plays.

  • Trevor Daley notched 2 thrilling goals and an assist in game 6 of Dallas' series against Anaheim, but it wasn't enough as...
  • Devante Smith-Pelly also scored 2 goals, including the game-tying goal with 24 seconds remaining.
  • Ray Emery started and won game 2 as goalie for the Flyers in relief of the injured Steve Mason.
  • Wayne Simmonds scored the empty net goal to ice game 2 for the Flyers.
  • Jarome Iginla scored 2 goals and 2 assists including the overtime winner in game 4 to help the Boston Bruins into the 2nd round.
  • Johnny Oduya notched 2 assists and only 2 penalty minutes in a heavy hitting series, as his Blackhawks moved on over the St. Louis Blues.
  • P.K. Subban had 5 assists as he lead the Montreal Canadiens to a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I am proud of the Black stars of the NHL for fighting for their spot and excelling in the league. Hockey is an exciting game that despite the economic barrier, will only increase in popularity as more black kids see stars that they can identify with. I am also proud of NHL fans and owners for learning from the Joel Ward incident to become better and more tolerant fans and people.