February 1st marks the anniversary of the official beginning of the civil rights movement.
The events that took place in 1960 at a Woolworth drugstore in North Carolina were the beginning of huge changes in how African Americans were treated in America.
Four black students took seats at the counter of the drugstore.
The store manager refused them service asked them to leave, however the students refused and stayed till closing time.
The next day, the day after and the day after that more students (nearly 300) came together despite the obvious danger and heckling by regular patrons ( white customers).
As a result of their non-violent protest and a subtle change in American views, on July 25th Woolworth finally relented after national media attention and pressure from the federal government shined a spotlight on their practices.
The next day the entire Woolworth chain was desegregated serving black and white patrons alike and in 1964 the civil rights bill was passed.
The lunch counter that the four students sat at and were denied service is now in the Smithsonian Institute.
Hockey has come a long way since then in the United States.
Herb Carnegie, a talented player with NHL skills was denied a opportunity to play because of his skin tone. Later Willie O’Ree the first player of African descent in the NHL was forced into a locked closet for protection from rabid Chicago fans.
Today thing have changed tremendously with several African descent becoming players visible in the NHL.
Ray Emery ( Chicago Black Hawks) Evander Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien ( Winnipeg Jets) , Jarome Iginla ( Calgary Flames), PK Subban Montreal Canadians, Joel Ward ( Washington Capitals) and Chris and Tony Stewart ( Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues) are just some of the players who make a difference on their respective teams.
Even the United States is producing NHL caliber talent with Seth Jones being forecasted as a potential number one draft choice. Jones has long been a standout youth player and recently helped Team USA win the Gold.
If Jones is successful in being drafted as the number one ranked amatuer player he will be the first African American hockey player ever to be chosen in that prestigious spot.
Part of the more colorful NHL now emerging has to do partly with a NHL initiative called’ Hockey Is For Everyone.’
Hockey is For Everyone is designed to draw nontraditional groups into the rinks and stadiums which will eventually grow the sport in the United States.
Several players who have participated in HIFE have made it to college ranks and the NHL.
Although progress has been made there are still some landmines present before the NHL is safely home allowing non-traditional talent to flourish and prosper..
In many local youth hockey rinks across the United States African American children still face discrimination and biases.
One youth player who asked not to be named in the article said he is constantly asked by teammates and parents “why don’t you play basketball?”
I experienced the problem firsthand when my own nephew, Jonathan Shaw was called the ’N word” by an opposing player during a game against the AAA 2000 Blue Jackets in Ohio.
Another 2001 player in Atlanta, Georgia was called the “N” word by opposing team parents during a game in earshot of his grandmother.
Other subtleties are also at play such as a distinct difference in discipline tactics and general unequal treatment by coaches and staff which eventually deters talented African American children from pursuing the sport even if they excel at it.
One African American youth player was asked to go the locker room alone while all of his teammates were allowed to stay in the stands and watch the next contest with no explanation as to why.
Richard Coard whose son Skyler played goal for the Carolina Hurricane’s Peewee squad remains hurt and puzzled by the treatment he and his son received from the organization.
Skyler although relatively new to hockey was a standout goaltender but was cut from the team.
“The goaltender selected to replace him did not even come to the tryouts” Richard said.
Coard confessed to having some financial impediments and often paid his fees a little late, “Even though I was late sometimes I still always paid my bills” he said.
The Huricanes sent Coard a scathing letter demanding payment upfront and denying him any financial assitance despite his son's obvious talent and ability.
After reading the unprofessional communications from the team’s bookkeeper and the ensuing back and forth emails it is obvious that the Carolina youth hockey organization did not want Skyler Coard, a goaltender who was sought after by several out of state teams for his puck stopping ability.
Youth hockey examiner tried to speak with the coach and youth hockey administrator but was told that they had no comment.
None of this is surprising if you take a glimpse into the NHL and notice that almost every player of African descent has been scrutinized and placed under a microscope in some form or fashion in the last year.
Evander Kane has been criticized for skipping out on a restaurant bill (allegations were false but some fans continue to believe them). He was also recently criticized for publishing a picture of himself with a large amount of cash on Facebook.
Kane’s team mate Dustin Byfuglien was charged with excessive alcohol levels while on his boat in Minnesota with friends, Chris Stewart was immediately ushered into the dog house when traded from Colorado to St. Louis, Subban received a chilly welcome from his teammate after returning to the team ending a contract dispute, and Joel Ward was called everything except a child of God when he scored the Stanley Cup goal that ousted the Boston Bruins, Wayne Simmonds was thrown a banana during an exhibition game.
Besides the NHL’s commitment to inclusion they along with USA Hockey will probably have to specifically address some of the new issues associated with a more diverse playing roster. If it wants to see more minorities involved they will probably have to lead from the front.
By the way the Ohio Blue jackets acted immediately after being made aware of the ‘N’ word issue. The Program Coordinator, Ed Gingher investigated the allegation and after meeting with the board of directors of the youth hockey program issued a 3 game suspension and made it a condition for the offender to write an apology letter to my nephew.
In my opinion the Blue jackets showed considerable class and character.
Mr. Gingher commented that the coaches and parent took the incident very seriously.