Jackie Robinson is known as the man who broke the color barrier in professional baseball. Although major elite sports like baseball, football and basketball are integrated and diverse, hockey still has a way to go.
The National Hockey League has always been a predominately white sport throughout the years and there has never been a movement to change that. Attempts at diversifying hockey in the past were unsuccessful but lead a way for black and asian hockey players today. Guys like Willie O’Ree and Larry Kwong may not have received the chance to play that they earned but they did do their part in being the first of their race to play professional hockey.
A recent article published by David Davis in the New York Times explains Kwong’s journey to the NHL. “Kwong’s career with the Rangers lasted a New York minute, but his legacy lingers some 65 years after his debut ended in disappointment,” Davis goes on to explain that Kwong’s legacy of being the first Chinese hockey player in the NHL had a lasting effect throughout the years. A legacy that opened up doors for star asian hockey players like Paul Kariya and Devin Setoguchi to be able to have the opportunities that Kwong never got in the NHL.
Willie O’Ree is referred to as the Jackie Robinson of professional ice hockey. Not only did O’Ree break the color barrier in 1958, but he also did it being 95% blind in his right eye. But like Larry Kwong, O’Ree did not receive much of a chance to play either. At the end of his career, O’Ree played in 43 NHL games, two games in 1958, then 41 game in 1961, all of which with the Boston Bruins. And during his time with the Bruins, while traveling with the team, on and off the ice, racist remarked were constantly yelled at by fans towards O’Ree. This is a problem that still is going on today.
During the 2011 pre-season, Wayne Simmons, a black hockey player on the Philadelphia Flyers went to take his shot in a shootout when a banana was thrown on the ice and landed directly in his path to the net. Despite the banana taunt by a fan, Simmons held his own and scored.
In an interview after the game with the associated press, Simmons acknowledged that the banana rattled him but “you learn to deal with it.” Referring to the culture of the sport and that hockey still over 60 years after the first black player stepped on the ice, racism still exists towards black hockey players especially in the United States.