A recent history of racial incidents in the NHL
Wayne Simmonds showed a lot of class and character by taking the high road in discussing last night’s awful incident in which an Ontario fan threw a banana at him. While his private thoughts must be at least a bit different from his diplomatic public comments, here’s hoping that he wasn’t hurt too deeply by a bad apple (or a few bad apples) who did such a lousy thing to him in his old stomping grounds.
Sadly enough, you probably have to have thick skin to fight your way to the NHL as a black hockey player. It seems like these terrible gestures are pretty rare - at least at the sport’s highest level - but these moments still bruise the sport’s reputation.
While this isn’t meant to be a complete list, here are some of the more notable moments and interesting stories revolving around the topic of racism in hockey from the last 10 years or so. (Note: this list focuses mainly on the NHL, so feel free to discuss issues at the junior, college and minor league levels in the comments.)
John Vanbiesbrouck and Trevor Daley: The “Bieser” might be remembered for his fantastic, rubber rat-laden run to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals with the Florida Panthers, but others will allow a far less pleasant memory linger. Vanbiesbrouck resigned from his position as the general manager of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after using a racial epithet in regard while discussing current Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley in 2003. Vanbiesbrouck apologized profusely for his ugly comment, but the damage was already done.
Kevin Weekes, Wayne Simmonds and Peter Worrell are among the (hopefully small list of) black players who’ve had bananas thrown at them. Worrell dealt with quite a few other high-profile incidents of racist behavior, including when Craig Berube received a one-game suspension for calling him a “monkey.” As PHT discussed in the post about the Simmonds situation, Georges Laraque also accused Sean Avery of uttering the same racial remark in 2005.
Ted Nolan’s claims of prejudice: Racism isn’t always just a “black or white” issue in hockey. Former Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan is of First Nation heritage, which Nolan claimed was a roadblock as he attempted to land another coaching job. The validity of his argument is up for debate, but it seemed worthy of a mention. Regardless of that dicussion, there should be little doubt that Nolan dealt with his fair share of discrimination.
Different minority groups haven’t always gotten along very well with each other, either, as you can see from an ugly incident involving Chris Simon (Ojibwa descent) and black winger Mike Grier.
Jarome Iginla being left off one 2002 Hart Trophy ballot: Much like Nolan’s claims, this situation isn’t cut-and-dry. There could be plenty of other reasons why one award voter left Jarome Iginla off of his Hart Trophy ballot altogether, but a subset of hockey people still wonder if racism was the true catalyst. (It ended up changing the voting process, so it was a significant moment either way.)
Modern players discuss dealing with racism: Before they became the Winnipeg Jets, the Atlanta Thrashers were trying to improve themselves on the ice and at the box office by adding a relatively large amount of black players to their roster. CNN caught up with some of the Thrashers’ black stars to ask them about racism in the sport.
American History X and hockey: To finish things off with a random but interesting anecdote, Frank Meeink - a former skinhead who served as the loose basis for Edward Norton’s character in the film “American History X” - began to dispel his racist viewpoints when he started playing ball hockey with black players.
Hopefully this was an interesting snapshot of a troubling issue for the sport, but if you want to go back deeper into the history of black hockey players, click here.