The Black and White Story of Hockey


The Black and White Story of Hockey

By James Jackson


It was announced in February 2021 that the Boston Bruins would retire Willie O’Ree’s famous number 22 in 2022. O’Ree was a pioneer and inspiration for black hockey players in the National Hockey League. One of the people who O’Ree inspired is a 25-year-old Black hockey defenseman from Toronto, Canada named Nathan Campbell. 


Campbell started playing hockey when he was around three years old, in a poverty-stricken area in Toronto known as Moss Park. While Campbell was growing up on the ice, he experienced his fair share of racism.


“I was just playing on teams where I was basically the only different skin colour on my teams for so many years.” Campbell said. “Just being stared at, looked at differently coming into rinks or places and that feeling of people whispering to the person beside them, just some little things like that.”


“It felt lonely in a sense at times but it never really hit me super hard till playing outside of Toronto in tournaments at places like Montreal and in some cities in the states where I’ve been called the n-word to throw me off my game.”


Unfortunately, like many minority hockey players, Campbell has dealt with racial innuendos being hurled at him.


“It was in my first year of junior in Espanola, a kid called me the n-word as I was skating off the ice. I got back on the ice which caused us to get too many men on the ice penalty. At first my coach was mad at me because we were about to go on the power play but instead it was even.”


After explaining to his coach what the young man said to him, the opposing player had to meet Campbell in the locker room the next time the two teams met to apologize. 


As mentioned earlier, Campbell isn’t the only hockey player who has dealt with this type of harassment. In May of 2020, NHL veteran Akim Aliu wrote an article for The Players Tribune in which he discussed multiple occasions where his coach at the time, Bill Peters, referred to him to racial as a racial slur.


Peters, who was coaching the Calgary Flames at the time of the allegations, resigned shortly after they surfaced.


In 2020, NHL legend Jarome Iginla spoke on the 31 Thoughts Podcast where he mentioned that when he was a kid, other children would tell him he would never play in the NHL because there were no Black hockey players in the NHL at the time.


Iginla would also mention that parents in the stands would yell things at him because of his skin tone. Parents of Iginla’s teammates would defend the future NHL star by going and speaking to the people who were taunting him in the stands. 


Much like Iginla and many other Black hockey players, Nathan Campbell had to face racial prejudices both on and off the ice. Campbell didn’t have to deal with these challenges alone, as he found out that his teammates and coaches had his back.


“In every situation they have been super supportive even to the point where I’ve had teammates asking if they can take it in their own hands and serve justice for me the next game. I’ve always said they know what they did there’s no need to do that. They went so low we don’t have to go down to that level.”

 

Despite what colour skin someone may have, it doesn’t define who they are or how they play. Jarome Iginila, Akim Aliu, Nathan Campbell..It doesn’t matter what level of hockey they played, they all had to face obstacles that most wouldn’t have to face. This piece, while a sensitive topic, is something that was written to inform and educate fans of professional hockey about the challenges that a Black hockey player has to endure while trying to play the sport that they love.


PHOTO: James Jackson/Under Review