Racism and Lack of Diversity in the NHL
The National Hockey League is a long-established organization in North America. The NHL is becoming a more ethnically diverse sport and its recent growth has brought forth concerns about racial tensions and clashes within the sport. Historically, the NHL has had a majority of white players, but in recent years there has been an increase in other ethnic groups, and with that, an increase in racism. Secondly, many hockey players tend to accept this racism as a part of the game. However steps hare being taken to eliminate racial slurs and to encourage the acceptance of ethnic diversity. With the increase of non-white players in the NHL, the incidents of racism have also increased and the league is now making moves to reduce and end this unfortunate reality in the game.
In the past , the NHL has been dominated by white players, but ethnic diversity is now increasing. In the first 71 years, there were only 10 African-American players in the NHL. This year alone there are 10, plus 6 North American natives( Racial Slurs ,1997). In the NFL, 60% of the players are black,compared to 80% in the NBA( Crossing the Blue Line , 1999). The NHL sees this lack of black hockey players as a problem. Pincus of the NHL said, "Obviously we don't have a lot of black players in our league yet. We view that as a matter of access and opportunity for young people to play the game."( Racial Slurs ,1997) Having an increase in coloured players in the NHL also means role models for younger children. In past years there were very few role models for young black children.
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Grant Fuhr and Willie O Ree were the few black players who could be considered role models. Willie O Ree was the first black player in NHL history(Allen, 1998, p3C). Willie O Ree is the director of the NHL s Diversity Task Force( Diversity Task Force ,2000).O Ree and the NHL are working toward increasing opportunities for non-Causasian children with various programs( Racial Slurs ,1997). Through these programs the Diversity Task Force in conjunction with USA hockey provide a not-for-profit program designed to introduce children of diverse ethnic backgrounds to the game of hockey. The web site states that The program's mission is to assist and enable local youth hockey programs to teach hockey, and other life skills, to economically disadvantaged children, creating a fun experience for boys and girls of all age levels. ( Diversity Task Force , 2000) The task force is aimed at giving underprivileged children the chance to experience the game of hockey( Diversity Task Force , 2000). By giving these kids a chance to play hockey the task force gives them the chance to love the game. Having role models for these kids to look up to and playing the sport of hockey will insure the increase of coloured hockey players in the NHL.
In the NHL today, many players and fans tend to accept racism as a reality of the game. For certain players who play the sport, taunting is perceived as part of the game. The hockey sub-culture is unique. It is a sport that encourages fighting as part of the game. It acknowledges that emotions can and will erupt. Where there are tough players, there is tough talk. Ethnic slurs have been commonplace in the NHL for nearly a century( Racial
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Slurs ,1997). These comments reveal what the players feel the sport is about. It doesn t
mean it s acceptable. It is just what is common in hockey. Peter Berube s agent talks about how he feels about the sport of hockey: "I believe hockey is probably the least racist of any sport in history. I guarantee you there have been more racial insults at Berube about being an Indian. There has been far more prejudice from Canadians to Americans for years, from North American players to European players, than against blacks."( Racial Slurs ,1997) There are many different feelings about this topic within the NHL. Mike Greir explained, A lot of people think racism doesn't exist anymore, but there are always going to be incidents in our society and I hope this raises some eyebrows that we're not beyond racism, that it's still there."( Racial Slurs ,1997) The NHL doesn t see the need to panic about the situations yet( Racial Slurs ,1997). Vice-president of public relations for the NHL believes strongly that these incidents are isolated:
"It's not as if we're burying our heads. We want to make sure everybody in hockey knows there are issues and sensitivities and ways of acting that are right. We think they know that....If these turn out not to be isolated incidents, maybe more has to be done. We have to let people know what may have been acceptable is not acceptable, That's what we hope the suspensions will do -- remind the players and get them understanding."( Racial Slurs ,1997)
By this comment, it appears that the NHL isn t concerned at this point about the topic. The majority of the players even though they are white don t seem to find this as an immediate
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problem that will affect the game of hockey; hence racism is maintained and often justified
by the players.
Within the NHL and beyond, steps are being taken to reduce racism in professional hockey. The league now requires their players to attend diversity sensitivity classes if the player makes a racial slur( Crossing the Blue Line , 1999). Throughout the years of the NHL, there have been many incidents between players. Lately the majority of incidents have been racist in fashion. In the past two seasons the NHL has weathered six allegations of racial epithets. These incidents may vary, but they all give the NHL a bad name in general. The NHL has strived to fix the problem in such incidents as the one between Sandy McCarthy and Tie Domi of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Domi was alleged to have called Sandy McCarthy who is part Black and part Native Canadian the N-word. No action was taken regarding this incident because of not enough information to punish Domi( Domi used . 1999). Another incident occurred between Chris Simon and Mike Grier. The same type of slur was directed at Grier from Simon. Simon was held responsible for what he did and was fined $1000 and suspended for 3 games. In the most recent incident, Mike Worrell playing in his second NHL game was called a monkey by Craig Berube. Berube was suspended for one game. These incidents haven t sparked any real response by the NHL. The NHL officials don t see a need to panic . It s troubling but I believe very strongly that it s isolated said Arthur Pincus. The new twist on this is minorities fighting among themselves, which is extremely negative. They should understand their
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roles as models, as among the few minorities that have made it, said Dr. Subhas
Ramcharan, a professor of Sociology at the University of Windsor( Racial Slurs , 1997).
Having role models in incidents like these may send a message to the youth who play the sport of hockey. For instance in a game in London Ontario, 11-year-old Shaun Clinton of the London Junior Knights was called a stupid nigger . Several months passed without anything being done to the Hamilton player who made the remark( Minor Hockey Needs , 1998). Having incidents like this without consequences shows young players that they can get away with what they are seeing their role models do. These racial remarks are in no way acceptable and the NHL has to be a leader in the crack down on these incidents.
The problem of racism in the NHL, for the people who watch hockey or the people who are involved in it, will always be an issue. Ethnic groups have now entered the NHL in grater numbers and the racial tensions have continued to exist. The cause of this racism may be the result of ignorance by the players and the personnel within the NHL. The league has created programs to increase the following of hockey within the non-white population and they have taken firmer steps in punishing incidents of racism. Until these programs start producing players, the NHL is going to continue to have problems with racial discriminations.