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NHL, Worry About Rigid Racial Lines Before Climate Change

07/24/2014 12:56 EDT | Updated 09/22/2014 05:59 EDT

The National Hockey League (NHL) just released its Sustainability Report, "to address the challenges [it] faces from an environmental perspective." In a show of self-preservation, the NHL is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. You see, a large number of hockey greats started on outdoor rinks in Northern climates.

"[...] Before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates." -- Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner.

With warmer weather comes shorter winters, melted ice, and consequently, a centuries-old tradition is threatened.

THE CRADLE OF HOCKEY LEAGUES

Mr. Bettman is right to look to hockey's roots to gauge the game's evolution to its present and future. The inception of the New World's very first hockey league is due to frozen ponds in the province of Nova Scotia. In the 1800s, enslaved African-Americans who were loyal to the Queen of Englandcondemned to fight for the British in exchange for the promise freedom migrated North after the War of Independence. They settled in Nova Scotia. In addition, many of the Underground Railroad's terminals (1834-1865) were in the Maritime provinces. There, Negro settlements bordered lakes and ponds which froze over during the long Canadian winters: the perfect premise to play ice hockey. The hibernal pastime practiced by the sons and grand-sons of U.S. slaves evolved into an all-Black hockey league, the predecessor of the NHL, in 1895. The Coloured Hockey League (CHL), which also boasted intra-racial matches, drew audiences as large as 1,200.

The dynamic style of play which reigned in the CHL made the games exciting for black-and-white audiences alike. Current NHL staples such as the slapshot and the diving goalie started in the CHL.

"For a number of years now, the [National Hockey] League and our Clubs have been working together toward the common goal of greater sustainability."
-- 2014 NHL Sustainability Report

While Bettman focuses on the "major environmental challenges" which loom over the most monochromatic major league in America, the real threat lies in the changing face of North America.

The USA is reverting to its original white-minority status, and will reach the tipping point in 2042. Statistics Canada predicts that people of colour will make up 30 per cent of the population by 2031, and some of the cities which host Canada's NHL teams are already there.

What made the first hockey league successful was both its reception of foreign styles of play innovative play, and its inclusive nature -- stretching beyond rigid racial lines to unite every inhabitant in the name of sportsmanship.

«I am the Black Hockey Player

A brother

Who stand out on white ice like a fly in a pail of milk,

Compose my surface smooth as silk,

Cool like the ice, I glide

Keep my anger inside,

Struggle to maintain my pride

When the stands spit slurs

That echo like gunshots,

or slapshots

off the boards with the hate in their words»

-- "Black Hockey Player " by poet Nth Digri (2002).

Perhaps Bettman's cherry-picked read of hockey's genesis is precisely what's wrong with the League. Brothers George and Darril Fosty, who authored "Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925", argue that the black contributions to hockey were conveniently ignored by whites. The continued discomfort that the Hockey world has with diversity is as much of a threat to the League's growth as "climate change". Many are wondering when Gary Bettman and his League will finally dig their heads out of the sand and start reading the demographic tea leaves. Ignoring the plural roots of hockey and misdiagnosing the threats to the game's future could be fatal mistakes. This strategic miscalculation could leave the next generation of hockey fans out in the cold.

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