Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Good Al' Bays Hockey Game

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Good Al' Bays Hockey Game

Article excerpt

Oh, the good old hockey game Is the best game you can name - Stompin' Tom Connors

The Hockey Song

THIS PAST SUMMER George Laraque, ex-Montreal Canadians forward, became deputy leader of Canada's Green Party. While the press noted his animal rights activism, they were silent on Laraque's most enduring political fight: his personal struggle against racism in hockey. Their silence was not surprising; Canadians have always been uneasy with the realities of race and racism in our beloved sport. Hockey has been elevated to such a status that criticizing the "national religion," especially from within, can evoke calls of patriotic heresy.

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One of the few black players to have become a household name in the lily white NHL, Laraque, the Montreal-born son of Haitian immigrants, has spoken publicly about the racism he experienced. Looking to African-American baseball legend Jackie Robinson for inspiration, as a youth Laraque persevered through racist taunts made by opponents and parents. He spent thirteen years in the NHL, a good many of those as the team "enforcer," a role not many want to play but are often obliged to by coaches who continue to see the threat of violence as necessary protection for star players and ironically, as a deterrent to dirty play. But Laraque's aggressive on-ice persona was moulded well before he entered the NHL. It was in response to racial slurs like "monkey" and "nigger" that the quiet boy off-ice became the scrappy tough guy known as "Big Georges" on-ice.

Other players of colour have shared their experiences of racism in the game and the odd news story on racist incidents in the minors occasionally bubbles up to national media attention. But no amateur hockey league (at least not to my knowledge) or the NHL has adopted an official anti-racism strategy; something that has become common in many soccer associations across Europe where racism is openly discussed as a problem. The NHL - which should be taking the lead as hockey's premier professional league - has had a markedly liberal approach, establishing a "diversity taskforce" and founding the NHL Diversity Program, all the while failing to publicly acknowledge racism in hockey. …

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