Race In America

Sharks' Evander Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement

Sharks' Evander Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement

Evander Kane is part of a select group of Black players in the NHL. The Sharks winger never has been one to shy away from speaking out on racial issues within the sport of hockey, and Kane recently was named the co-head of the new Hockey Diversity Alliance, which hopes to help address the diversity concerns in the sport.

Kane also joined the NHL's new "Soul on Ice" podcast -- featuring several Black co-hosts who also play professional hockey (Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas and Elijah Roberts plays for the OHL's Niagara Icedogs) -- and discussed how he initially reacted to the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" movement.

 "I think hockey can be for everybody, I don't think it currently is for everybody," Kane told Thomas, Roberts and co-host Kwame Damon Mason. "I think there's hundreds and thousands of examples of why that's not true. The biggest issue I had, from an NHL player's standpoint, was the NHL placing their Hockey is for Everybody month in the month of February. The month of February has always been a month to celebrate Black History.

"To me I thought it was a bit of a slap in the face, I thought it was poor judgement, and I thought out of the six months during the season, how could you not find another month to have that campaign."

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

"Hockey is for Everyone" has been the NHL's campaign for inclusion since 2017, first beginning as a month-long celebration during February, which as Kane noted is the same month as Black History Month.

It since was expanded to be a year-long campaign, but Kane still feels the league's plans could have been executed better. He credits the work of NHL executive vice president for social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, Kim Davis, for encouraging the league to make inroads with the Black community.

"Also, before Kim even got into the league and became a part of our league, we never celebrated Black History Month," Kane continued. "It wasn't even a thought, it had no interest within our league. And it was a question I always raised, but never got any answers.

"For me, that whole campaign, as great as it is and as important as it is, I thought it was flawed, and I didn't understand the messaging. For me, it just seemed like they were trying to overlook Black history and really, our Black players in the game."

[RELATED: Why Kane, Hockey Diversity Alliance value NHL independence]

Kane appeared last month on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," and emphasized how valuable the platforms of athletes in all sports are for speaking out.

In a league with an overwhelmingly white population of players, voices like Kane's are critical to help the NHL become more diverse and inclusive for all.

Giants' Gabe Kapler won't back down in fight against racial injustice

Giants' Gabe Kapler won't back down in fight against racial injustice

Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday, July 24 on NBC Sports Bay Area after "Giants Postgame Live" and NBC Sports California after "A's Postgame Live."

No matter how hard people with opposing points of view, including the President, flex their keyboard muscles and try to shove him into suppression, Gabe Kapler will not back down.

The Giants manager and several Giants players knelt during the national anthem Monday night and did so again on Tuesday before the Giants-A’s game at a vacant Oracle Park. Kapler and his players were the second to do so in Major League Baseball – former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell was the first, in 2017 – and Kapler himself was the first manager or coach in major American sports to stage such a protest against racial injustice.

"I was thrilled to see him do it," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area.

This is, in the conservative, tradition-bound world of baseball, a bold stand.

This is, to those supporting the discrimination that has existed in America four centuries -- or continuing to falsely label this as disrespecting the military or the flag -- a loathsome move.

This is, for anyone disgusted with racism and longing for a better America and a more equitable planet, as right as it is noble.

For Kapler, who thoughtfully addresses the issue on the next episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” on Friday night, it’s mostly a matter of principle.

“I don’t think it makes any sense to be blindly in allegiance with the country, or with the flag,” he says. “It makes sense to listen to what the words of the Star-Spangled Banner are saying. Listen to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, and say: Do these words apply? If they do, then absolutely stand up. If they don’t apply, the most American and patriotic thing you can do is to use our voices to say, ‘I don’t believe this is actually happening right now.’”

Kapler, who turns 45 on July 31, grew up a Jewish kid in Southern California. His parents, Michael and Judy, were activists opposed to the Vietnam War, fighting for civil rights and feminism. In the Kapler home, then and now, principle matters. It’s in the blood.

“I've had conversations with my family, conversations with friends around the game and people from other organizations,” he says. “And one of the things that I heard and continue to hear is that we have an opportunity – and when I say ‘we,’ I mean people in positions of authority in sports, people in positions of privilege in sports – have both the responsibility and an opportunity to amplify the voices of black people. To amplify the voices of marginalized groups, and groups that in many ways are asking for our partnership.

“I take that responsibility pretty seriously. I have a lot to learn and a lot of listening to do, but I also feel like it's the right time to speak loudly in sports while all eyes are on us.”

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

Among the Giants who joined Kapler in kneeling Monday night in Oakland was outfielder Jaylin Davis, the only African American on the roster. Several more – including Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval – dropped to a knee Tuesday.

This comes with the full and fervent support of the team’s new front office chief, Farhan Zaidi, who has not been bashful about flipping flames toward the ignorant. Zaidi issued a postgame statement saying he was “proud” of the peaceful protest by his manager and players.

What was surprising, even as corporations crawl over each other to convey racial awareness and sensitivity, was MLB using its Twitter account to stand firmly behind the Giants.

One tweet: “Supporting human rights is not political.”

Another: “It has never been about the military or the flag. The players and coaches are using their platforms to peacefully protest.”

Insofar as both tweets are factual, these are fair points. It is somewhat refreshing, though, as MLB – at every level – has not always concerned itself with fairness.

[RELATED: Davis appreciates Giants' support after deciding to kneel]

Maxwell experienced that as much as anyone in recent years, and his experience leaves Kapler with a twinge of regret for not speaking up three years ago.

“I don’t know why it took so long,” he says. “I wish I had a concise way of wrapping this up. In a lot of ways, it’s inexcusable.

“To some degree, frustrations have gotten to a point, dissatisfaction with the way our country has handled systemic racism, and racism in general, has come to a place where people aren’t just OK (with it) anymore. I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I feel like this time it’s just screaming at us. There’s no choice, no other way, but to speak up and have the conversations.”

Kapler’s viewpoint will cost him points with those unconcerned with equality. He’s unbothered by this, perhaps because it's in his blood to be an ally to those in the fight.

Steph Curry's 'subtle racism' remark magnifies flagrant racial coding

Steph Curry's 'subtle racism' remark magnifies flagrant racial coding

Steph Curry points out that “rich, successful Black people” are perceived as “anomalies.” The word “articulate” comes to mind. It’s those subtle cues that might not seem noteworthy but are bound to affect impressions.

“That's the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself,” Curry said. “And if another white person hears that comment, they're going to think the same thing. And it's not going to trickle down to anybody else and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value. Prove their worth.

“It's just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it's a private conversation, whether it's a tweet, whether it's a video. Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that's all we're asking for.”

It’s a big ask, Steph. Noble by all means, but also gigantic – even in sports, where performance ought to be the first and foremost consideration.

[RELATED: Curry leading by example on racial issues]

Sports provides countless examples of America’s racial double standard, perhaps none more topically evident than those available in NFL pre-draft evaluations of Lamar Jackson. Simplicity, though, compels us to focus on two of the greatest baseball players to ever enter a clubhouse.

They both crouched at the plate, worked the count and drew a lot of walks. While one was subjected to questions, even snide comments, about his intellect, the other lauded for his ability to “think the game.” Even became a manager.

They both trusted and relied on the headfirst slide, despite its severe toll on the body. While one was labeled a malingerer, the other was characterized as passionately committed.

One is fourth on MLB’s all-time list of games played, the other No. 1.

Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose are the same side of very similar coins, except for one salient difference. Skin color.

And that evaluation distinction, around for centuries, remains so. We see it and hear it in the coded language of pre-draft evaluations in every major sport. In descriptions of players on rosters in every sport. We live it on a daily basis, and the resultant images have a profound way of establishing perception and distorting reality – as well as value.

A great athlete? Generally Black.

Smart player? White or Asian.

Incredible natural ability? Black.

Worked hard to reach this level? White.

Undisciplined? Black or Latino.

Fundamentally sound? White.

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

“I saw it in the scouting world; I was a scout for the Giants for 10 years,” says Brian Johnson, who spent eight seasons playing in the big leagues. “There are different ways that guys describe a black athlete, a black baseball player, than they do a white baseball player. So, there’s a lot of change, a lot of things that need to be done that I don’t think you know. A lot of the leadership are not even aware that it’s going on.

“We within baseball,” adds Johnson, who is white, “have the same type of systemic racism that the United States in general and every facet of the United States has.”

It’s found in baseball, but also in football and basketball.

Knows how to get open? White.

Stretches the field? Black.

Passionate? White.

Hot-headed? Latino.

Flashy? Black.

Steady? White.

Volatile? Black.

Sleeps with his playbook? White.

A bit of a wild card? Black.

A coach/manager on the field? White.

Have to coach/manage him carefully? Black or Latino.

Would make a fine manager/coach someday? White.

Well-spoken? Black.

To examine rosters in MLB, NBA and NFL is to realize sports, often advertised as a strict meritocracy, is anything but. Ask Colin Kaepernick. Or Eric Reid. Or MLB pitcher Edwin Jackson, who recalls being sent down to “work on your slider,” when it is his career-long go-to pitch.

Merit is a factor, but so are salary, attitude and perception. There are too many witnesses to conclude race irrelevant, particularly in the case of the final roster spots in all three sports, as well as those given the opportunity to forge a career as a backup quarterback. The unspoken message is that unexceptional Black quarterbacks don’t get paid to watch.

All pertinent things being equal, there remains a measure of inequality.

Which brings me back to Henderson and Rose and perceptions. Several of Rickey’s managers reached an internal verdict that he was a slacker, never mind his signature headfirst slide – the same tactic for which Rose was celebrated, earning the nickname “Charlie Hustle.” Indeed, if you Google “Charlie Hustle” images, you get numerous pictures of Rose diving into a base.

Yet Henderson, the perceived slacker, played more games than the indestructible Cal Ripken Jr. Scored more runs than Rose and everybody else. Stole more bases that anybody, period. To find someone who more consistently endured physical trauma, you’d have to resort to football.

Rickey’s work ethic ... well, he didn’t much believe in weightlifting, but he probably did millions of pushups and sit-ups. Genetics surely played a part, but he exploited his genes to the fullest.

And, yet, there were those in baseball, even teammates, who underappreciated him. There were those in baseball media, 28 members to be exact, who declined to vote him into the Hall on the first ballot. He took too many games off.

[RELATED: Kerr understands work starting on racial equality]

There are those trusted, veteran personnel scouts, who didn’t think Lamar Jackson had “the tools” to succeed at quarterback. Have you thought about moving to wide receiver? Why? He didn’t fit the QB profile.

Their QB profile.

Is there any need to wonder why?