Sunday, January 27, 2008

The colour of hockey

Bottom line: hockey needs a transcendent African-American star, a Tiger Woods, to market the game to a black audience. "If you had somebody of that caliber who was African-American, then, yeah, I think that would break the barrier," says James Jemison, a black hockey fan from Atlanta.
It is, when you think it through, part and parcel of a league that has forged ahead in bringing its foreign game into the south. If you're trying to sell hockey in Atlanta, you had better be selling it to the African-American community as well. That means celebrating the 10 or so black players who are in the NHL at any given time, and thanking the good Lord that one of them is good enough to wear a ‘C' when the All-Star Game comes to a city such as Atlanta.
Two interesting pieces, both well worth a read. Perhaps I'm naive, but I honestly hadn't expected this to be the direction the coverage of an all-star game in Atlanta would take, but then again, the NHL hasn't tried to disguise its sell-job in Georgia.

I didn't see the skills competition yesterday, but what I did catch was the NHL Network's coverage of the teams' practices yesterday, and it was hard to miss the fact Usher was the event's master of ceremonies. (Wyclef Jean, too, was scheduled to make an appearance.)

And apparently the majority of the radio promotion for this weekend was put on 790 The Zone instead of the Thrashers' flagship station.

That's all fine by me; I'd love to see all sorts of new fans take an interest in hockey. I think it's great that Snoop Dogg has become somewhat of an ambassador for the Anaheim Ducks, and hopefully more celebs follow suit.

It'd be great, too, to see more synergy between the Big Three sports — all of which have far more black representation than hockey — and the NHL.

In reference to the Time piece: As far as I'm concerned, Iginla is this sport's Tiger Woods — or at least as close as you can get in a team game. He's really an undermarketed gem for the league, a true star in every sense of the word. (And the fact that he's Canadian would seem to reflect the game's heritage anyway.)

In any event, I'm curious what others think of the NHL's appeal to a black audience.

Labels:

25 Comments:

At 6:22 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

Iginla is exactly what that guy wants in the sport, and then he drops

"Iginla is great, but as a Canadian who grew up in hockey-mad Alberta, his backstory isn't that surprising."

Give me a break. Tiger woods grew up in Orange County, it's not like he grew up in the crappy part of Detroit and transcended his upbringing to become a golf champion. Hockey might not have very many black players, but it does have it's tiger woods.

 
At 6:33 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger Leonwestbrook said...

Another Black hockey fan here. ;)

The NHL's commitment to "diversity" is a JOKE.

How many times you can wheel out Willie O'Ree to "celebrate" it before it gets so passe?

The NHL needs to some how subsidize youth hockey programs in inner cities and maybe they can get a Tiger Woods.

I love Jerome, but the NHL is not marketing him right.

 
At 6:43 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

It'd be great, too, to see more synergy between the Big Three sports — all of which have far more black representation than hockey — and the NHL.

It's worth noting that African-American representation in MLB is on the decline. It was covered extensively during the 60th Anniversary of Robinson's first game with the Dodgers. As basketball becomes even more globalized, a decline will happen there, too. It's not just a matter of black and white, and/or Canadians and Americans anymore (if it ever was). There are kids from all over the world playing all of these sports, in addition to the children of many colours, creeds and religions playing in Canada and the U.S..

 
At 6:46 PM, January 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got a better idea. Instead of trying to sell hockey to a non-hockey culture, why not, I dunno, sell it to a hockey-CRAZY culture, like, um, CANADA.

 
At 7:02 PM, January 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No kidding. I'm sure I'll be labelled a bigot here - but who cares about marketing hockey to a black audience? It's hard enough marketing hockey to an American audience.

Why does skin colour have to matter to hockey being a sport worth watching?

And what's wrong with Iginla's upbringing? He isn't black enough to be considered a "transcendent African American" because he grew up in Canada? He's a respectful young man who doesn't sound like a rap artist in interviews - so he can't be marketed as a black superstar? He doesn't have any street cred to ignorant Atlantans because he grew up in Alberta - so, gee - he'll automatically learn how to play hockey at a high level?

People of any skin colour should appreciate the game for what it is, not because a player of any particular skin colour happens to be the star of the game. Why aren't we hearing stories like this written about the NBA? Or...NASCAR, for that matter? Is there even a black NASCAR driver? Somebody write an article, maybe NASCAR needs a transcendent African-American for it to be legitimately appealing.

 
At 7:15 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger islesblogger said...

I have always felt it shouldn't and doesn't matter the color of one's skin - so long as they can play the game.

Maybe its my naivety, but what's the big deal about marketing? The NHL should concentrate on targeting the game at fans in general - not "specific niche" fans.

The Islanders have a young African American player in Okposo rising through the ranks - he should be interesting to watch - as a HOCKEY PLAYER, not because of his background or skin color.

 
At 7:31 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger Baroque said...

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to say the same things I did in the comments on Kukla's:

To me the major point is the first paragraph of the article in Time.

“You know, I don’t understand why you’re playing that white man’s game. So stupid.” For Gerald Coleman, a goaltending prospect in the Anaheim Ducks organization, those words still sting, like a high-stick to the forehead. At the time Coleman, an African-American who grew up in Chicago, was in the ninth grade, and he just told the high school basketball coach that he was picking hockey over hoops.

It doesn’t matter how much the league reaches out to young people, if their own community rips them to shreds for doing something unlike their peers, hockey will never make any headway.

How can you expect the kids to get ahead if this is the kind of “encouragement” they get? I’m sure Coleman expected some disappointment from his coach if he was a good basketball player, but he also expected to be wished good luck. Not to be kicked in the teeth by an ignorant, intolerant moron.

(And on what is expected of a transcendent star...)

He can’t just be black, but he can’t be a goalie or a defenseman and he can’t score primarily through hard work. He has to be flashy and score a lot. He also can’t be modest and shy, but must be cocky and outgoing - lots of charisma and very articulate. He has to be from the right city and maybe even from the right neighborhood. He has to not hold any controversial stances and can’t get in any trouble, so his reputation must be free of any blemishes. It would help if he was attractive so he could look good in photo-shoots, and if he has a really good life story and a photogenic family, that would help. He has to play in the right market so he gets attention, and the team has to be good so he can get noticed in the playoffs, so he can’t play on a small-market team, or in Canada, or on a team without a lot of talent to surround him with, and they have to be good for several years so he doesn’t look like a flash in the pan, and he has to play in a lot of games so he can’t get hurt much…

And yet he is supposed to emerge, like Athena from the head of Zeus, out of a culture that doesn’t support him when young and his talent is developing. There are so many requirements other than just “must be excellent at hockey” that I don’t see how such a paragon of hockey saviourhood could actually exist.

And as you (Bingo in the previous comment) said, it wouldn’t improve the standing of the league immediately but would take time. What if this remarkable player suffered a broken leg in his third season, a concussion in his fourth, and was out of the game after parts of six seasons? That doesn’t leave much time for him to light the hockey fire in non-white communities in a way that will last, no matter how good he is or how good the team is around him.

I don’t dispute that seeing someone who is similar to you might make you think about a sport differently - more Europeans now think the NHL is a realistic goal, more Americans now see that playing in college is a viable route to professional hockey, and more black faces might make a black kid think about playing hockey if he has the opportunity. But if the primary response from his friends is “that’s a stupid sport”, why wouldn’t he just go along with the basketball they are playing so he can spend time with friends and talk the same sports language with them? It would be nice for the NHL to have a black superstar, but athletic talent doesn’t concentrate in very many people, and they can’t just wait for something that may not ever happen.

The accessibility is important, but unfortunately as long as the community attitude is against it kids will be discouraged from going into hockey.

I’m not asking everyone in the black community to embrace hockey, but if one of their young men (or women) wants to play hockey, instead of calling the sport stupid, have an open mind, wish them luck, and show up to the games if you can (even if you don’t understand the sport) to support a friend or family member who is trying hard to get better at something that is important to him. Do your part to support him and maybe you can say you saw him play as a kid when he makes it. Don’t run down something that is important to him.

(Sorry it's so long - at least I think my grammar and spelling are accurate so it shouldn't be a hard read!)

 
At 7:50 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger The Gate To The Groin For Yannick Bertrand said...

Lil Jon does not appreciate being left out of this conversation for so long.

 
At 9:08 PM, January 27, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

James, I understand your point, but there is no way that Iginla is the game's "Tiger Woods". The only valid comparison would have been is if Wayne Gretzky had been black. Tiger Woods is a gargantuan figure in golf. Iginla is merely an all-star caliber guy. Iginla is not on the same level in his sport as Tiger Woods is in his. They do not even beong in the same conversation.

 
At 9:10 PM, January 27, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

And yet he is supposed to emerge, like Athena from the head of Zeus, out of a culture that doesn’t support him when young and his talent is developing. There are so many requirements other than just “must be excellent at hockey” that I don’t see how such a paragon of hockey saviourhood could actually exist.

I don't know about that, Baroque. You could say the EXACT SAME THING about Tiger Woods and golf, and yet he emerged just the same.

 
At 9:18 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Iginla is not on the same level in his sport as Tiger Woods is in his.

No one, anywhere, is going to make that argument.

 
At 11:01 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger d-lee said...

Personally, I thought it was a bit awkward and, um, rude the way Usher said "I can't do what y'all do, but you can't do what I do either."
Not once, but TWICE. He went out of his way to make that statement, as if this was a big pissing contest.
I found his attitude to be a little combative. It isn't easy to reach out to the African-American community when one of its so called ambassadors has a hostile attitude, and when Gerald Coleman's coach tells him he shouldn't play "that white man's game".

Both sides need to work harder, but people are being naive if they think that there's going to be an explosion of African-American NHLers overnight. It's going to take years, decades of outreach from the NHL community and some open-mindedness from the African-American community.

 
At 11:03 PM, January 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Iginla is not on the same level in his sport as Tiger Woods is in his."

No one, anywhere, is going to make that argument.

Regardless of the merits of the first comment, the response is really weak. Obviously, someone is making the argument..

-CG

 
At 11:13 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Right. What I mean is that no one can approach Tiger Woods's level of influence in hockey — or really any other game right now. That's a bit much to expect from anyone.

Hockey has its black spokesman, and he happens to be a superstar; does it change the sport's ability to market itself that dramatically if he's the top player instead of one of the top five or 10?

 
At 11:14 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

(And I still honestly can't see anyone making the argument that Iginla is Tiger's equal.)

 
At 11:33 PM, January 27, 2008, Blogger Meg said...

The NHL needs to some how subsidize youth hockey programs in inner cities and maybe they can get a Tiger Woods.

This is something they've been trying to do, as the TIME article James linked mentions. I'm not saying they can't or shouldn't do more, I'm just saying that they are working on just that. From the article:

"Since 1995, the league has spent over $6 million to expand its Diversity Program, which O'Ree, 72, helps direct. When the NHL started its diversity initiative, there were 5 inner-city hockey programs in North America. Now, there are 39."

Now that's slow progress, but they seem to understand what they need to do.

 
At 12:36 AM, January 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NHL likes to think that markets like Atlanta are weak because of a lack of appeal to the black community. But what about Nashville? And Carolina? And Los Angeles? And what about New Jersey? Are those markets weak too because of a lack of interest from African-Americans? Or is it simply because your average American sports fan just doesn't care about hockey?

Last time I checked, there are plenty of American sports fans who AREN'T black, and there have been some pretty good American talent over the years too (Modano, Leetch, Tkachuk, Roenick). If in fact the issue was race, then surely their should be enough white American sports fans to fill the arenas right?

To me, race is, and never was, the issue. Instead, it's about accessibility. After all, there's a reason why soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

 
At 1:04 AM, January 28, 2008, Anonymous GeorgeMalik said...

I dunno...in the "crappy part of Detroit," there are rinks, and both the NHL's Diversity program and the Red Wings help subsidize it, and OneGoal is now launching a pilot program to increase youth hockey participation throughout Michigan, both inside and outside the boundaries of Detroit.

Look, all I know is something really simple. As a white kid who grew up in a working-class suburb with the Polish neighbours on both sides of me speaking Polish over the fence so we couldn't understand them, feeling culturally excluded is always contextual, and for that matter...

I got into hockey because my best friend, who was a Korean kid, told me that I had to watch a Russian hockey player when there still was a Soviet Union. Joe Kim told me that I had to watch Sergei Fedorov, I did, and I've never looked back, cheering the "commie" Russians and IKEA-shopping Swedes to three Stanley Cups.

Maybe I'm just naive, but I've shared the rink with blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, and as a goaltender, I'll tell you that the same thing is true about every player I've faced--you never worry about their eyes or their face, because it's their stick that does the talking. You read the stick, and you can read the player.

There are a lot of "white people" playing in the NHL, but I find it hard to believe that there isn't a more diverse league out there, at least in terms of countries of origin, and our sport deals with people from very different backgrounds trying to overcome cultural differences and linguistic differences to come together and win. Isn't that what counts?

 
At 7:16 AM, January 28, 2008, Anonymous baroque said...

I don't know about that, Baroque. You could say the EXACT SAME THING about Tiger Woods and golf, and yet he emerged just the same.

He got support from his family, though, and was at least seen as a cute novelty when he was young instead of stupid.

Individual sports are a little different in that you can focus to the point of exclusion on all but a very few people who do support you, and a team sport athlete might need more community support.

Besides, it is such a rare thing - golf was very lucky to have Tiger Woods emerge, and hockey can't wait around for someone like that to emerge. It would be nice if he did, but they can't expect it.

 
At 8:25 AM, January 28, 2008, Blogger Baroque said...

There is a difference between recognizing a good marketing opportunity when it is presented to you through sheer good fortune, and waiting for the magic player to appear to "save" the game.

Golf took advantage of Tiger Woods; hockey seems to be waiting for one to show up instead of marketing who they already have (to everyone, not just blacks).

 
At 11:03 AM, January 28, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

"There are a lot of "white people" playing in the NHL, but I find it hard to believe that there isn't a more diverse league out there, at least in terms of countries of origin, and our sport deals with people from very different backgrounds trying to overcome cultural differences and linguistic differences to come together and win. Isn't that what counts?"

In a world where racism is often used as a means to combat racism, it isn't nearly enough.

And that really is the problem with this entire argument: The unstated message in all of these stories is that if the athelete isn't black, the black community won't support him.

This is, I am afraid to say, a very sad commentary being provided by Time, and others.

 
At 12:24 PM, January 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conversely, the premise of the article would make it appear as if no white people would attend NBA games. Access and identification with the sport is what counts, not identification with the players. The majority of Americans have held a basketball and thrown a free throw. The same cannot be said about hockey since it is not a sport for "casual" enthusiasts at any level.

 
At 7:51 PM, January 28, 2008, Blogger Max said...

Accessibility is an issue. One thing football, basketball, baseball and soccer have in common is they're all sports a kid can play in the yard with very little equipment. Anyone can throw a ball around. Hockey? You need sticks and a puck at least, a surface to play on (preferably ice), and it helps if you can skate, too - a skill we're not born with, and one which I can't imagine many living in the south have had much reason to learn.

The black issue is an issue, but I disagree with the sport needing a Tiger Woods. One transcendent star would work, sure, but a whole bunch of everyday players would work just as well. The "minority" contingent of the NHL is almost non-existent. Iginla aside, the other half-dozen black players in the NHL at any given time are typically role players or bit-part toughies. If the sport had a greater representation of various cultural groups, then it stands to reason those cultures would embrace the sport on some level, consider it something open to them. Of course, you need an influx of ethnic players to achieve that goal.

After all, wasn't it Richard Pryor who said of hockey "the only black thing on the ice is being chased by a bunch of white guys with sticks"? It's a poor taste joke, and I hope you forgive me for posting it here, but it's a joke that couldn't have been made if hockey had even half the multi-ethnicity of the "big three" sports. Subsidised programs is a start, I suppose.

 
At 12:18 PM, January 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a minority who's played the game most of his life, I am really happy to read the post that say players should be judged by skill and not by color or any other criteria. In all honesty, that's what most minorities would like to be judged by. I'm ok with a system of meritocracy. Problem is, most social systems has an ingrained system where color and socio-economic status plays a large roll.

I do agree with Leonwestbrook. There is no question there are good athletes who grow up in innercities. What the NHL needs to do is subsidize youth programs in those areas and expose these kids to the game. That way, the kid who might be the next LaDamian Tomlinson might instead decide to be the next Mark Messier. There's no reason this shouldn't happen.

 
At 3:23 PM, January 30, 2008, Blogger Justin said...

As one commenter stated above, "the NHL's commitment to 'diversity' is a JOKE." I'm involved with a non-profit ice hockey program that serves mostly Latino children, but specifically low-income youth. We have been around for fifteen years, and serve a thousand children on average per week in an area that is not known as a hockey hot bed, yet there is an NHL arena located less than four miles from our headquarters and our children practice on the very same ice as the local NHL team.

And guess how much participation our program experiences from the "NHL Diversity Task Force". None. Zero. Zilch. Because none of the children we serve will likely ever be season ticket holders, our program is nowhere near a priority for the league.

Bless Willie O'Ree for his life's accomplishments, but the NHL is putting on a front every time they shove the man out in front of the cameras. It is truly sad because there are generations of diverse individuals that have missed out on our great game, and I don't know if that will change anytime soon.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link


.

Free Page Rank Checker
eXTReMe Tracker