Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Excellent Read on Race in Hockey

A Canuck (as in Vancouver, not just some Canadian guy) blogger has written a great post about the Thrashers' acquisitions of black players in the past year and about race/nationality in the NHL in general.

It is well worth the time to read. In it, he states that bringing in an underrepresented race to the locker room, as long as the players belong there *cough*Brashear*cough* is a far different thing than excluding players on the basis of race. He points to what he believes to be an example of the latter in the Indiana Pacers locker room. I am not sure that I agree with his example, but I know nothing other than what he has written about the situation.

He goes on to compare bringing black player to Atlanta to stockpiling Francophone players in Montreal or Western Canadian players in Vancouver.

I have certainly harbored a desire to have more American born players on our team in the past, for the simple reason that they are more like me than Canadian or European born players. Of course they are all very much UNlike me in that they are good at hockey, except for Chris Tamer.

Our issue in building a fan base in Atlanta goes farther than race, as I pointed out in the comment section of that post. There is a hostility towards hockey here. I encounter it when my friend Brad makes his trite comment "there ain't no ice outside! Why aren't we watching the Dawgs?" I encounter it every time Jeff Schultz deems to write about the Thrashers.

Hockey is foreign to Atlantans. Folks in their late 30's or older may remember the Flames and have passing memories of the Knights, but they didn't grow up with the game and the vast majority have never worn a pair of skates.

We still need more rinks in Atlanta. People need the opportunity to play hockey in order to grow to love it. Soccer requires nothing but a ball. Ditto for football, in the back yard at least. Basketball just needs a ball and one of the nets that is ubiquitous around the country. Baseball only requires a ball, gloves, and a bat.

The two sports that have the hardest time bringing in new fans, and in particular, fans of races that generally occupy lower socio-economic categories, are golf and hockey. Why? Perception and money.

People think of golf and hockey as white sports. They think of golf, at least, as an elitist sport. That's because both sports are very expensive to play.

In golf, you have to acquire clubs, balls, and cleats, then pay for the privilege to play or even to practice hitting balls. In hockey, you have to buy skates, pads, a helmet, gloves, a stick, and pucks, then you have to pay for the privilege to play or even to practice. You can practice in your driveway on expensive roller blades or in your shoes with a tennis ball, but that doesn't translate to the real game.

If we want hockey to become accepted in Atlanta, we have to make hockey accessible to more Atlantans. We need more rinks, and we need programs to get poorer kids on the ice. We need to find ways to get skates on poorer kids feet and sticks in their hands, then get them on the ice.

We don't have the advantage of our Canadian brethren who can enjoy free ice time outdoors from November through April. We have to pay to skate year round and take turns.

The best way to improve hockey's footprint here is going to be through programs to get as many kids on the ice as possible. We need programs with community pads and skates that get sanitized then passed out to the next kid as one kid outgrows them, and we need rinks to lower their fees while expanding their leagues to make up in volume what they are losing in individual fees.

If you've felt what it's like to step out onto the ice before a game, taking those first few strides on the fresh ice and lined up for the first puck drop of the night, then you're going to love hockey no matter what. You will watch a Japan/Belerus international match because you love the game.

Catching potential fans' attention with faces that resemble their own is all well and good, but they won't truly be won over until they've learned to tape a Koho and pass a water bottle over the heads of ten teammates without sending it flying onto the ice.

For the Blueland Chronicle, I'm Razor Catch Prey.


Daniel Wagner said...

Great response to Harrison's original piece. Definitely a big part of establishing a fanbase is providing opportunities for the younger generation to play the game and grow up with the game. Even though I blog about hockey, I grew up playing soccer and baseball because they were far cheaper to play.

I wouldn't downplay the importance of ball hockey and street hockey, however. Canadian kids who can't afford to play ice hockey can still play street hockey with just a stick, a ball, and whatever's handy for a goal. It's also incredibly fun and can be a big part in developing a culture that appreciates the game.

Ball hockey skills can definitely translate to the ice, as well. The best example of this is the Canucks' own Alex Burrows, who was an international ball hockey star (sometimes referred to as the Wayne Gretzky of ball hockey) before working his way up to the NHL.

Numerous NHL stars train in the off-season with a ball hockey variant called Floorball as well, which Canucks fans are quite familiar with as it's the sport Sami Salo was playing this summer when he injured himself yet again.

In any case, great post. Thanks for reading Pass it to Bulis!

the jointhead said...

The future of Georgia hockey. Its hard to play when the man takes your ball.


Razor Catch Prey said...

I didn't mean to disparage off-ice forms of hockey. Most of us here in Georgia played floor hockey during PE in elementary school. I have very fond memories of it as the only sport where I was actually decent. Later, in high school, when our negligent gym teacher gave up on inventing things for us to do, we spent months playing floor hockey every day and would spend our lunch break dividing up the teams.

Floor hockey and roller hockey are good cheaper alternatives to ice hockey, but nothing really measures up.

Perhaps a "baby step" would be to gather equipment and find places to host pick up games and leagues of floor hockey to get kids interested.

The Thrashers have a Hockey In The Streets (HITS) program that purports to do just that, but is rarely seen. Kids need to have the option to play hockey whenever they get the notion. YMCA's and Boys and Girls Clubs in the Atlanta area all need a supply of Mylec sticks and pucks, and professionals need to make the rounds teaching kids the basic rules of the game.