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Kolby Solinsky Headshot

Is Hockey a Racist Sport?

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Finally.

Finally somebody said it. Finally somebody defended the innocent actions of Evander Kane, and finally somebody said those words we all knew we'd finally hear a hockey player say, one day. It's just too bad it had to be Kane, himself, who said them.

"I think a good portion of (the criticism of me) is because I'm black and I'm not afraid to say that," the left winger told The Hockey News. (*The story is set to come out on March 4, said The Sporting News.)

He then clarified his statements with a solid one-line just after.

"I don't feel like a victim and I don't want to be perceived as one."

Now, the defenders of the realm will be quick to throw up their arms and roll back their eyes. Oh, please, they'll say. Not everything is a racial issue. Just because he's black doesn't mean that's why he's been criticized.

They'll be quick to point out that he's been flagged for a number of off-ice indiscretions and misconducts. They'll tell you he's overreacting. They'll say it's another case of a young player with a big mouth. After all, it's easier to say that than it is to admit the truth, and the truth is not something normally uncovered by sports journalists.

It's odd, though, that people now seem to be more afraid of being politically correct than they are of being racist.

The fact is, hockey is and has always been a whites-only sport. Okay, maybe not whites-only. More, like 95-per cent-white-and-the-rest-just-whatever. Hockey is inherently a white sport, and a white Canadian one, at that. Hockey Night in Canada and its post-20-minute patriotic terrier praise good ol' Canadian boys and the way they play the sport we love.

But, take a minute and think about what the words good ol' Canadian boy mean. What's the image that comes to your mind? Who do you see, and what does he look like?

Sure, it doesn't have the word "white" in it, but neither does the word "Jesus", and I think it's fair to say he's always been depicted as rather pale for someone supposedly born in the Middle East.

Think of the things Kane has been criticized for.

It was rumoured he skipped out of a restaurant bill or two. Okay. So, that's not great and it's nothing to admire, but it's hardly a case for Scotland Yard. Patrick Kane physically assaulted a cab driver in 2008, and I don't remember Chicago ever wondering whether he was a problem for their organization.

And, besides, the Kane/Dine-n-Dash thing was a rumour.

Someone held up a sign suggesting it in another team's rink. That was literally the whole story. Kane laughed about it, and so did the Jets.

Then, Kane was caught in the offseason posting an image of him in Las Vegas flashing two stacks of dollar bills. The photo was taken during the NHL lockout and while many normal people who aren't paid into the millions per year are still struggling to find employment in the wake of the 2008 global economic recession.

Okay, it was a meathead moment. It was a little silly, and it made him look a little immature (which is fair, since Kane is 21 freakin' years old).

But, it wasn't a crime. It was nothing of note. It wasn't a DUI or an assault. It was a personal moment of indulgence and it shouldn't have been aired on social media. Boo hoo.

The fact is, hockey has never had to confront its race issues because, well, it hasn't always had them. Sure, some of us know that Willie O'Ree was the first black player in the NHL, but he's hardly a celebrity in the realm of Jackie Robinson (who broke his barrier 11 years before O'Ree) or even Roberto Clemente.

In fact, O'Ree is barely known.

And, yes, there are only a handful of black players in the league at any given moment -- Joel Ward, Jarome Iginla, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Devante Smith-Pelley, just to name a few -- but that doesn't mean we're not racist. It just means we're not inclusive.

Canadians have always lived with the false notion that they are morally superior when it comes to race issues than our neighbours to the south. Amistad, a hundred years (and more) of slavery, the Ku Klux Clan, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement? Those are all American things, but it doesn't mean we get to wash our hands clean and call ourselves pure from the womb out.

Our treatment of our aboriginal people (historically and still today) is deplorable. We have a history with the Clan, and we casually try to distance ourselves from phrases like "Komagata Maru" and "Japanese Internment".

And, let's not forget hockey.

In the last year and a half, Wayne Simmonds (a black player for the Philadelphia Flyers) has had a banana thrown at him, and Joel Ward (Washington) and Malcolm Subban (the OHL's Belleville Bulls) have been called the n-word by hateful waves of people on Twitter.

Does this sound like an enlightened country, or like the chorus of "Strange Fruit"?

In the video above, CBC anchor Diana Swain calls the Joel Ward affair a "low for the sport," but is it? It seems like it's status quo.

"I'm not surprised," said Ward's mother, Celia, at the time. "He grew up with it."

As a hockey nation, we also tend to completely dismiss the character and toughness of European players and, specifically, Russian players. (And, yes, French-Canadian players, too.) We call this analysis, but that's not really true. Russian players are treated from their draft day like they have to prove something over and above their Canadian counterparts, or like they have to atone for previous players from Moscow and the surrounding area who were viewed as soft or fragile or Prima Donnas, despite any evidence to the contrary.

Is there really much difference between Henrik Sedin and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? What about Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman? Or, Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf? Gretzky and Kurri?

Let's face it: hockey is an extension of us, and we all still have a lot of work to do.

*This was originally posted on White Cover Magazine.

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