Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life.
He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."
In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.
"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.
"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."
Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.
"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."
Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.
"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."
The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.