Name: Kirk T Walker
Date: April 23, 2001
Activity: Open Word Sort
Article: “Icing the Stereotypes: Black Hockey Players in a Traditionally White
Sport” by Michael Morrison
Students are put into groups. The groups will be given a list of words from
the article (see the Word Bank) which they must categorize in some
meaningful way into 2 or more groups of at least 2 words. The groups will
then be asked to give a rationalization for their categories and the words
they put into each.
Realization of Meaning:
Students will read the article which contains the words they have
The groups will decide whether or not they would like to move words to
other categories, create new categories, eliminate old categories, et cetera.
Groups will then share the changes they made and their explanations for
those changes. These activities will be followed by a discussion of the
article. Sample questions which may be used to guide or initiate the
discussion are listed below.
1. Why are demographics important when considering the diversity level of the NHL?
2. What did Anson Carter mean when he said, “Black players are bringing different things
to the table, which means that black players are they same as everyone else” ?
3. How were Willie O’Ree’s accomplishments in professional hockey similar and different
from Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments in professional baseball?
4. O’Ree claimed not to be bothered by racist remarks made to him while he played.
How do you think you would have felt in his position? Do you think O’Ree was really not
bothered by those remarks? Why or why not?
5. Do you think that the NHL is doing enough to increase diversity in hockey?
6. Should it be the role/responsibility of the NHL to promote diversity in the sport?
7. Should professional sports be subject to affirmative action?
8. Do you think that the ratio of black to white players is due primarily to racism or to
9. Should other sports be concerned about evening out the ratio of black to white
players? For instance, should the NBA which is disproportionately black try to promote
more whites to play their sport? Why are the implications of racial disproportionality in
the two sports the same or different?
10. What other programs could be used to help insure that economically disadvantaged
youths have a chance to participate in not just hockey, but all sports? Why is this an
Anson Carter Ontario
Boston a “white” sport
Canada United States
Grant Fuhr Wayne Gretsky
same Willie O’Ree
legally blind minors
uninspiring Mike Grier
respectable Jackie Robinson
color barrier diversity training
verbal abuse expensive
inner city Used Equipment Bank
tickets role models
emulate economically disadvantaged youths
Icing the Stereotypes
Black hockey players in a traditionally white sport
by Michael Morrison
When Anson Carter was ten years old, his life was much the same as most of the other boys growing up in his Scarborough, Ontario, neighborhood. He went to school, came home, and played hockey. As he continued to play, advancing rapidly through his local leagues and on to Michigan State University, he began to stand out for two reasons. One, he was almost always the best player on the ice, and two, he was black—a rarity in hockey.
Carter is one of the most promising young forwards in the National Hockey League. He was the second-leading scorer for the Boston Bruins in 1999-2000, and was recently traded to the Edmonton Oilers. In 2001, he was one of five black athletes on the Oilers, and one of 19 in the NHL. It's a number that may seem low (given the 650 players in the NHL today) but it still represents a noticeable increase in what has always been thought of as a "white" sport.
According to league reports, only 18 black players reached the NHL between 1958 and 1991. While racism certainly played some role in keeping the figure to a minimum, it may have been more a function of the demographic makeup of Canada. In 1971, Canadians made up over 95% of the NHL, and only .02% of all Canadians were black. Today, the black population in Canada has increased to 2%. In addition, the United States, with a much higher black population than Canada, now contributes approximately 15% of all NHL players while Canada produces just over 60%.
Recently retired goaltender Grant Fuhr is considered to be the most successful black player in the history of the sport. The backbone of the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers of the late 1980s, Fuhr currently stands in sixth place in all-time wins for goalies and is a sure-thing for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His success has paved the way for other black goalies like Calgary's Fred Brathwaite and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Kevin Weekes, now starting in net for their respective clubs.
Along with Carter, young black forwards Jarome Iginla from Calgary and American-born Mike Grier from Edmonton have both become offensive leaders on their teams. Iginla, just 23 years old, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1997 while Grier is gaining a glowing reputation around the league for his scoring touch and hard hits.
Speaking of hard hits, there is also a growing legion of black players that, to be blunt, have become known more for what they accomplish with their fists, rather than with their sticks. Edmonton's Georges Laraque, Vancouver's Donald Brashear, and Florida 6-6, 235-pound giant Peter Worrell have all become valuable commodities as their teams' enforcers.
As Carter told Sports Illustrated in October 1999, "Black players are scorers. Black players are checkers. Black players are enforcers. Black players are tough, stay-at-home defensemen. We have different roles on a hockey club. Black players are bringing different things to the table, which means that black players are the same as everyone else."
In the Beginning…
Willie O'Ree became hockey's version of Jackie Robinson on Jan. 18, 1958, when he made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins. Despite being legally blind in his right eye (due to an errant puck that felled him two years earlier - a trait he kept secret), O'Ree rocketed through juniors and the minors, and reached the pinnacle of the hockey world.
He played just two games with the Bruins that year, was sent down to the minors for the following two, and didn't come back to the NHL until 1961, when he returned for a 43-game stint. Through it all, he was met with an endless stream of verbal abuse.
"Racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal," said O'Ree. "Fans would yell, 'Go back to the south' and 'How come you're not picking cotton.' Things like that. It didn't bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn't accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine."
O'Ree scored an uninspiring four goals and 10 assists in 1961. And that was that. While he continued to forge a respectable career mostly in the Western Hockey League (twice winning the scoring title), he never returned to the NHL. And unlike baseball, where Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier cleared a path for thousands of black ballplayers to follow, no other black athlete played in the NHL until 1974, when Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals.
Diversity in the NHL
To its credit, the NHL has taken an active role in promoting diversity throughout the league. Each player is required to enroll in a diversity training seminar before the beginning of each season. Trash-talking is an ugly side effect of almost all athletic competition, but the league has made it clear through suspensions and fines that any racially-motivated verbal abuse will not be tolerated.
The league has also recently brought O'Ree back into the limelight, making him the Director of Youth Development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force, a non-profit program designed to introduce children of diverse ethnic backgrounds to the game of hockey.
Hockey is an expensive sport to play, with full equipment packages costing hundreds of dollars. In 1997, the NHL and USA Hockey developed the Used Equipment Bank, designed to encourage people to donate their used equipment to economically disadvantaged youths.
Carter has also been instrumental in trying to give inner city youths more access to the sport. As a Bruin, he sponsored a program, "Carter's Corner" in which he purchased six tickets for each Bruins home game (matched by the club) for distribution to youth groups in the Boston area.
Grier believes the professional black players are role models for youth. "If any of the black players have success," says Grier, "kids will want to emulate us."