Black NHL players have been talking about racism for decades. Why did it take so long to listen?
Since we’re all sharing stories about racism, hockey, and the stifling whiteness of Canadian institutions, here’s mine.
In November of 2000, I was six weeks into a yearlong internship at the Star, pinch-hitting for a sick colleague on the hockey beat. So I showed up at Lakeshore Arena to report a story about the Edmonton Oilers, who were playing the Leafs the next night, and whose roster included five Black players.
Late in the media session, a scrum formed around Scarborough’s Anson Carter. I asked him about the role race played in his professional life, and he gave calm, thoughtful answers. When I asked whether people tried to portray him as something he isn’t because he was a Black athlete in a largely white sport, he responded that people tried but said, “I’m not a politician. I’m hockey player.”
The following morning, that same exchange appeared in a competing publication under the byline and logo of a white columnist also present at the Carter scrum.
“Pressed by a minority reporter to comment on racism in the NHL, Carter said simply, ‘I’m not a politician. I’m a hockey player.”
One sentence, loaded with easy-to-decipher code, broadcast to a national audience, about who the columnist thought belonged in that sport and this industry. As one of a growing number of Black NHLers, Carter was a curiosity, but acceptable because, in the columnist’s portrayal, he didn’t acknowledge race.
And me? I was just a “minority reporter.” An interloper. An unwelcome guest in a section of the journalism industry reserved for experienced white men.