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Is Hockey Growing Among African-Americans?

Avery Etuk |
June 21, 2015 | 11:41 p.m. PDT


Blackhawks' parade. (danielcatucci1/Twitter)
Blackhawks' parade. (danielcatucci1/Twitter)

The Chicago Blackhawks have captured their third Stanley Cup in six years, and have not only taken the city of Chicago along for the ride; they have also managed to bring to light the ever-growing demographic of hockey fans of today.  

“You know how awesome the Hawks are?” A fan asked rhetorically in an interview following the team’s series-clinching win on Monday night. “It sounds messed up but it’s true: They got black people lovin’ hockey…”

The city of Chicago has a Black/African-American population of 32.9 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau, and it appears that the Blackhawks—through their success—have gotten many interested in the game.

A recent Chicago Tribune article, citing statistics from Scarborough—a media research company—reported on the increase of African-American Blackhawks fans and their perking interest.

Here’s what the Tribune found:

                In Chicago, the number of African-Americans who identify themselves as very or somewhat interested in the Hawks increased from 12.6 percent in 2011 to 21.9 percent in 2014.

               The number of black fans who watched a Hawks game on TV or listened on the radio grew from 28.1 percent in 2011 to37.9 percent last year 

                 They made up 9.7 percent of Hawks fans in 2014, up from 7.1 percent in 2011, which is the only increase among racial groups charted by Scarborough.

The Tribune also found that growth among African-American fans in the NHL is 1.4 times the overall rate, this is the highest among any demographic of fans, according to Scarborough.


The sport of hockey is not typically known for its diversity, but black people have always been apart of the sport. Though mostly unknown by the general public, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes was actually founded in 1895 in the Canadian providence of Nova Scotia.

The league helped to combat many of the racial stereotypes held about African Americans during the time, including the racially charged allegation that they could not handle harsh winter weather or ice skate at all.

 The Colored Hockey League has been credited with creating a new style of play to the Canadian game; one that moved away from the primitive and elitist play of the white-only leagues. The CHL is also credited for allowing goalies to cover the puck using their feet, while Eddie Martin—a player in the CHL—is said to be the first player to utilize the slap shot.

Yet it would not be until the 1950s that the first African-American player would make an appearance in the NHL. That man was Willie O’Ree

O’Ree was known for his speed and scoring ability. The CHL may have been the league to set the foundation for African Americans in the sport, but it was O’Ree who actually set the tangible example that motivated many others to follow suit.

From the time O’Ree donned a Boston Bruins sweater to the present, the NHL has seen in a steady increase in the amount of not just black players, but minority players in general. 

In the 2013-2014 season alone, 43 minority players had earned spots on NHL team rosters. 22 of those 43 minority players were black, according to a recent ESPN article. 

The NHL and its teams have recognized the impact that minority players can have on the communities that the teams are located in. On the surface, it appears they have made it a priority to bring more diversity to the sport.

Programs such as Hockey on Your Block, a free hockey program used to target at risk youth in Chicago, and Hockey is for Everyone, an NHL youth program that youth hockey organizations across North America, were created in hopes to spread the game across the country to young athletes of all races.

In the state of Illinois, the Chicago Blackhawks have helped increase the amount of kids participating in youth hockey. In 2013-2014 the number of total players was 29,977, trailing only popular hockey states such as Minnesota and Michigan, according to USA Hockey.

Black players such as P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadians, Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals, Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets and future Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche, African-American kids all over the country now have a chance to see great players in the league that look like them.

Unfortunately, even in 2015, all is not sunshine and roses on this front. Despite the increasing amount of black players in the NHL, racist comments against some have overshadowed the progress being made.  

Most recently, this occurred after a double overtime loss in Game 1 of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After Subban scored the winning goal for the Canadians, many Boston Bruins fans took to twitter to voice (warning: the tweets contain strong language) their disappointment and anger in an unpalatable and disrespectful way.

In 2012, a similar incident occurred involving the Bruins fans again, after Joel Ward scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.

In 2011, during a preseason game against the Detroit Red rings, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers had a banana thrown at him by a fan after scoring in a shootout.

On the supporter’s side, fan bases of teams, and of the sport as a whole, still have ways to go to show that they are appealing to a more diverse group. The league still has one of the whitest audiences of any sport at 92 percent and the richest audience with 33 percent making $100,000 or more according to Nielsen's 2013 Year in Sports Media Report.

Despite the tone-deaf and unfortunate incidents, and the lack of diversity in fandom, seeing black players on the ice for NHL teams is becoming a regular occurrence, and consequently helping to grow the sport among African-Americans all over the country.

It’s safe to say that both the CHL and O’Ree would commend the progress that has been made to this day, but rest assured that in that same breath, they would also correctly contend that there’s still plenty more left to accomplish. 

You can reach Contributor Avery Etuk here



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