What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Black hockey fans

some are just discovering the game others have loved for years

10:45 PMFour years ago, I found myself sitting in the downtown Washington, D.C. offices of Ted Leonsis: founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the outfit that runs the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals. Per his request, we were there to discuss diversity in hockey. My story “Iā€™m a black hockey fan. We do exist.” had just run, and Leonsis, who’s long supported youth programs in his local area thought that should be more well-known.

But as I explained that day and in the story, my concern was about the game-day experience. That was a separate discussion to whether or not black kids get the chance to hit the ice. But in the past month, we’ve seen how teams are reaching out via social media to get black faces in the seats.

First, there was the story of Tony X. He tweeted up a storm while watching his first game as a St. Louis Blues fan, and became an instant sensation. He ended up at a playoff game with an authentic Vladimir Tarasenko jersey on, shown on the jumbotron and then trading paint on Good Morning America with Blues legend Brett Hull.

Last week, writer Retta, who goes by @unforettable on Twitter, shared the tale of how she became a fan, and it’s beyond hilarious. The story is set a few years ago, but has gained new relevance as the Stanley Cup playoffs continue with each of the four teams left fielding a relatively prominent player of color.

Like, Tony X., she’d be given the red carpet treatment during her maiden voyage and had a blast. With deck like “how the LA Kings, a personalized jersey, and an epic Vine helped her fall in love with hockey,” you know you’ve got a great story. And if people are actively calling the Kings the “Kaaangs” in Los Angeles, I might have to move there.

There was an older black couple at the bar, and for me it wasn’t a big deal cuz this is LA. Black folks are everywhere, right? But the novelty was lost on me because I forgot where I was. I was at a hockey game, in the Chairman’s Room, where people with the baller-baller/shot-caller tickets hang out. The novelty was not lost on the older gentleman, who, upon seeing me, lit up with such excitement that I thought maybe I knew him. I didn’t. He was like, “Hey, sistuh!” A little thrown by his eagerness, I was like, “Heyyyy ā€¦ sir.” And then it dawned on me. We were THREE unicorns in a basement bar. Even this unicorn couldn’t believe it. ā€” Retta

Point is, these two tales make one thing obvious: Getting fans of color isn’t particularly difficult if you reach out to them. There’s nothing necessarily inherently divisive about the game. Many people just don’t know it’s there or realize how fun it can be to watch, a fact the NHL could easily change.