How Canada's Black Hockey League shaped the sport and the path to our arrival in the NHL today Journal Article uri icon
  • Willie O'Ree, known as the "Jackie Robinson of hockey," was the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL), debuting with the Boston Bruins in 1958. From the moment the Canadian-born player stepped onto the ice, he changed the notion of hockey as a "White sport," and he has dedicated his career to making it more accessible, including working with the NHL Diversity Task Force initiative Hockey Is For Everyone (HIFE). HIFE supports nonprofit hockey programs around the country and gives kids from all backgrounds the opportunity to try out their skills on the ice. Since 1994, Willie O'Ree has introduced 50,000 children across North America to the sport. Nonetheless, in the NHL today, only approximately 5% of the players (43 of >700) are players of color. However, several aspects of hockey's history, and innovations in the game, can be traced back to communities of color. Established in 1895, the Black Hockey League (BHL) of the Maritimes in Canada grew out of local churches in small towns such as Africville, Nova Scotia. By the beginning of the 20th century, the BHL had grown from a 3-team league to include newly formed teams across the region. The league had its own championship at a time when Black players were not allowed to play for the Stanley Cup. The BHL was at its height between 1890 and 1930, with hundreds of players, 12 teams, and as many as 1,200 spectators. Unfortunately, the Canadian government did not provide equitable resources, and churches alone could not maintain these small Black communities. As the NHL developed, focus shifted away from regional leagues. In 2018, Willie O'Ree was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. Although he may have broken the color barrier in 1958, hockey is still a predominantly White sport, and society continues to grapple with systematic racism. NHL players have formed an independent group, the Hockey Diversity Alliance, to work to make the game more socioeconomically inclusive and to help eradicate racism and intolerance.

  • Link to Article
    publication date
  • 2020
  • Research
  • Orthopedics
  • Racial Groups
  • Sports
  • Additional Document Info
  • 102
  • issue
  • 21