These were the words from Akim Aliu, who opened up about his experiences as a black hockey player. The article, open for everyone to read, is a damning account of hockey culture, racism, and bigotry. Hockey needs to be better. Hockey needs to weed out the racists. But the problem goes beyond just a few racist players and a few experiences.
Hockey culture is toxic, a word you will read regularly throughout this post. Aliu’s story of racist teammates, racist fans, racist locker rooms, and racist coaches sheds light on just how toxic it truly is, and how players can be black balled by speaking out. The fact that only three NHL players, as of the writing of this post, came out in support of Aliu shows how toxic the culture is and the power that some in the league have.
Is too much to ask for just one white NHLer to tweet something like, “What Akim Aliu went through is unacceptable. We have to do better. I stand with Aliu against racism in hockey.”
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) May 20, 2020
It honestly isn’t that hard to speak out either. A tweet may not necessarily do anything tangible, but it at least continues to draw attention to the toxic problem in the league. Yet the stars in the league, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Henrik Lundqvist, and the many that the NHL markets as stars on their nightly shows, have been silent. Some after repeated pushing for a statement.
It is too much, apparently.
I've reached out to at least 6 NHLers, incl Crosby/McDavid multiple times, this season asking to chat about race & been rejected. Pens PR: "I’m not sure why you are pushing this with us"
I've asked NHL why plyrs remain silent & not gotten a response https://t.co/bnZTLzCj49
— Salim Nadim Valji (@salimvalji) May 20, 2020
It doesn’t matter that none of them played with Aliu. This is an issue in hockey and in life. That fact that we are STILL having these conversations in 2020 just illustrates how desperately we need players to speak out and start changing that toxic culture. Yet all we have are players subtweeting cryptic remarks:
Was going through some stuff from my youth hockey days and came across this note I received from my coach when I was 12. Cheers to the coaches that give their time and effort to help young players achieve their hockey dreams. pic.twitter.com/LwKT7DtYIc
The culture is ingrained in hockey. It was put there by the “200 Hockey Men” that refuse to acknowledge they are not only a part of the problem, that they are THE problem. This is a culture that came from them, was passed down to coaches like Bill Peters, whom Aliu called out previously, who passed it down to Steve Downie, whom Aliu called out in this article.
Yet nothing is ever done. No one is held accountable. John Vanbiesbrouck, noted racist, is still the Associate Executive Director of USA Hockey. Peters resigned as coach of the Calgary Flames this season, but only after the allegations became public. It’s a safe assumption that the Flames knew who they were hiring.
The Rangers are no strangers to this either. The team took a lot of heat for failing to immediately respond to K’Andre Miller’s Zoom call that was hijacked by racists. Four hours later, it was made clear they were working with the league, the NHLPA, and the FBI before releasing a statement.
This isn’t a player “earning his keep.” These are hate crimes. The utterly ridiculous thing here is that these hate crimes are occurring so regularly in the NHL that the players, the 99% that haven’t acknowledged the article yet, brush this off as “just boys being boys.” It’s not.
Hockey needs to be better. Toxic hockey culture needs to change. The NHL prides itself by saying Hockey is for Everyone. But it’s clear it isn’t.
Hockey needs to be better. We need to be better. But the question is how.
Hey non-Black hockey media & players who follow #BGHC, today is a great day to PUBLICLY discuss your plans to help make hockey less racist for players like Akim Aliu, K'Andre Miller, Boko Imama, and others who have experienced aggressive racist attacks. Let's talk about it!
— Black Girl Hockey Club (@BlackGirlHockey) May 20, 2020
This is how. We all play a part here. Publicly outing racist people in hockey. Making sure we talk about it. Making sure everyone is aware of the current toxic culture.
The first step in solving any problem is admitting there is one. Hockey has a racism problem.