By Jake Howorth, North York Rangers Communications and Digital Director
Hockey is generally considered one of the best team games. It should reflect an open and accepting culture where all players can be themselves no matter what. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for many players.
It has especially been brought to light in 2020, with former and current NHL players like Akim Aliu, Evander Kane, Matt Dumba, Chris and Anthony Stewart and much more explaining their experiences going through the hockey system as a Black player. The stories told aren’t what any Black athlete should go through.
The North York Rangers currently have two Black players on the roster in Myles Perry and Sean Clarke. With the conversation of changing the hockey culture for the better and it being Black History Month, we wanted to give these individuals a platform to explain their experiences.
When asked about playing hockey as a Black athlete, both of them explained how much enjoyment, friendships and memories the sport has brought to them so far. Majority of the time neither player felt different in anyway but there were incidences where their skin colour was brought up..
“When I was 12 was the first time I’ve had someone say a racial slur to me. I knew what he was saying was bad but I didn’t understand why until I asked my dad that meaning behind it. This was something that always stuck with me, It was the first time I felt like hockey wasn’t accepting me as if the things this kid said were trying to push me away from the game,” Clarke explained. “But I’m lucky I had very good teammates, coaches and my family that helped me get past this helping me realize hockey is a sport made for everyone no matter where you come from or what the colour of you skin is.”
“My experience as a black hockey player for the majority of my career has been everything I could have asked for. Since playing hockey at the age of six, I have always enjoyed playing the sport I love by creating many good memories with my teammates and coaching staff; no matter what team I have been on I have always felt welcomed with open arms,” Perry said. “However, throughout my fifteen years of playing hockey, I have experienced two incidences where I have been ridiculed based on the colour of my skin, though I never let those negative experiences affect me or take my love away from the game of hockey because at the end of the day I will not let someone’s ignorances determine the person I am.”
They both believe the hockey culture has been getting better over the years, but there are areas to improve. The aspect for them is continuing to promote diversity in hockey and getting role models to share their stories.
“The sport of hockey has made significant changes throughout the years, the steps hockey clubs and league organization have taken to create hockey in a positive environment has been very beneficial to newcomers into hockey community. Although progress has been made, the stigma around hockey culture being toxic still remains,” Perry stated. “However, multiple steps can be enforced in hockey culture to change its reputation. Specifically, actively promoting hockey diversity and supporting each other on and off the ice can go a long way to help create change for the future of hockey. With hockey being a predominantly white sport, promoting hockey diversity can help make players of colour feel more included while also attracting a larger diverse audience to hockey. These are just some of the few steps that can be taken to initiate the change the game of hockey and society desperately need.”
“I’ve always looked at hockey as one of the more inclusive sports in the world even though it’s a predominantly white sport. I think the hockey culture has to become more accepting of different cultures and people of colour that we didn’t see play the sport in the past. And over this past decade we have seen major improvements, as black hockey players in the NHL is at an all time high and constantly growing,” Clarke said. “We’re seeing more black role models in the hockey world that are getting to speak their story’s which shows young black men like me that you can do anything you want no matter how difficult it may be.”
When the month of February comes, it’s a time to celebrate Black History Month. Perry and Clarke understand the importance of celebrating the individuals who paved the path before them.
“Black History Month to me is a time look back and commend all the people who have made positive changes for the black people of this world and the ones continuing to do so today,” Clarke said. “It’s a time to be open and reflect about the past struggles that we and our ancestors have gone through to get to where we are today.”
“Black History Month allows everyone to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture,” Perry said. “Black History Month creates awareness and knowledge on the many hardships black people have endured and the effects it has had on them. Black History Month also recognizes the many influential black people who have helped make a difference in the world which is why this month; is very meaningful to me.”
North York pride themselves on their team culture by creating an accepting, competitive and family environment. This allows individuals when they walk through the door to grow as hockey players and men. That helps prepare all the young men for life after North York. Both Clarke and Perry could not be more happier with the Rangers culture.
“From the first day of becoming a Ranger, I have always been embraced by the positive culture the staff and players of the North York organization have created. Specifically, being approached by my Head Coach Geoff Schomogyi to write this article was very meaningful to me as it demonstrates the culture here in North York that we try to represent,” Perry explained. “As players, we are always told by our coaching staff to voice any of our thoughts and concerns since they believe everyone must be heard to ensure everyone feels important. I am very proud to call myself a Ranger.”
“I believe the North York Rangers culture is one of the best I have ever been a part of. From the moment I got here I felt accepted, I was never judged for the way I looked, the colour of my skin, or what my background was,” Clarke stated. “It doesn’t matter what your skin colour is or what culture your from, they accept you as part of the North York family.”