Impact of Black athletes on the National Hockey League

World Today

Impact of Black athletes on the National Hockey League

Black athletes have played professional ice hockey in North America for nearly a century.

But today, less than 10 percent of National Hockey League players are black. As Black History Month comes to a close in the United States, CGTN’s Giles Gibson has a look at their impact on the sport.

Follow Giles Gibson on Twitter @Giles_news

In Washington, D.C. – home to the National Hockey League’s reigning champions – ice hockey fans are learning about their sport’s relationship with race.

Over the decades, these players pushed themselves, and the barriers of their sport, to the limit.

Willie O’Ree, the first black player to break through into the NHL; Dirk Graham, the first black captain in the league; all this month, their legacy has been celebrated by the NHL Black Hockey History Tour.

The traveling exhibit has been on display throughout Black History Month, visiting seven U.S. cities before ending up in Washington, D.C.

Organizers said it celebrates 200 years of black achievement in hockey.

“When you come down and visit the exhibit and you see what’s inside of it, there’s a lot of information that people just didn’t know, even hockey fans!” explains Rodney Reynolds, the co-founder of American Legacy Magazine. “They didn’t know what the extent of black involvement was in the sport of hockey.”

Since Willie O’Ree’s groundbreaking debut, the NHL has become steadily more diverse.

The 2016-2017 hockey season saw a record four black players named All-Stars, making the NHL’s top ranks much more diverse than in Willie O’Ree’s day.

But exhibit organizers said there’s still more to be done, and that work starts at the ground level.

“Supporting the hockey clubs that exist around the country, in neighborhoods around the country, exposing youth and children to the sport of hockey, giving them an opportunity to become engaged with the sport, and I think you’ll see the diversity of the sport increase for years to come,” Reynolds said.

Just this month, several fans were removed from a game for making racist chants towards a player, showing racism still plagues some corners of ice hockey – 60 years after Willie O’Ree broke into the NHL.