Take a moment to think about some of your favorite NHL players. Players like Connor McDavid, Sydney Crosby, or Alexander Ovechkin, might come to mind. As you think about more and more players, you’ll find a striking pattern of similarity- most, if not all of these players, are white. Unfortunately, because of different cultural, economic, and sociological issues, hockey has been a predominantly white sport since the NHL was founded. Looking at different historical and societal factors helps highlight why the sport has come to be this way.
One of the main reasons why hockey lacks racial diversity is because of the numerous economic barriers that come with playing the sport. Hockey is way more expensive to play compared to many other popular U.S. sports like soccer or basketball. To play hockey, you must have tons of protective equipment, ice skates, hockey sticks, and most importantly, a place cold enough to have ice. The gear and equipment can cost hundreds of dollars and can be especially expensive to keep up with as a child grows throughout their youth. But equipment isn’t the only thing that raises the cost of hockey, making it harder to access for low-income communities.
The rinks you play at are sure to have monthly ice bills that cost just as much as some of the equipment. Competitive hockey will often have you traveling every weekend, whether it’s a thirty-minute drive or a 10-hour drive. And make sure you have your passport because you’ll most likely be visiting Canada for a time or two. Hockey can be a big financial investment, especially if as a parent and your child starts playing at a young age.
When you put together all these different cost factors, the dollar signs begin to pile up. Hockey can cost anywhere from $1,000-$20,000 plus a year. It is one of the most expensive youth sports to play. The cost of hockey creates barriers for lower-income communities. Since lower-income communities are often faced with racial inequality, hockey has not been easily accessible to diverse groups. Economic inequality has helped hockey grow into a white-dominated space.
It’s commonly believed that hockey originated in Canada but similar versions of the sport have been played by different communities throughout history. Canada however, has been a key founder in establishing ice hockey as we know it today. Canada made hockey one of its national sports in the 19th century and in 1917 the National Hockey League was created. For a long time period, the Canadian population was predominately white and Canadian politics followed along with American and European ideologies. These ideals and early lack of diversity in Canada’s population, helped further establish hockey and its association with whiteness.
The lack of diversity in hockey creates an environment where racism can more easily thrive. Val James was the first Black American NHL player in 1982. At one point in his career, opposing fans threw bananas on the ice at him and also hung a monkey doll on a noose over the penalty box he was in. In 2018, four Blackhawks fans chanted “basketball” at a black Capitals player, Devante Smith-Pelly, while he was in the penalty box. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only incidents of racism that have occured in the NHL and by hockey being a white dominated space, they’re likely to occur again.
Hockey is for Everyone, is a big ideology the NHL is trying to align its program with right now. Announced in 2017, the NHL’s campaign focuses on using hockey and the NHL to drive social change and encourage diverse communities. It’s a great concept but recent reports have shown that the NHL still has a long way to go for improving diversity and inclusion. In October, 2022, the NHL released internal demographic data and found that 84% of the workforce, like players, coaches, staff, are white. Data gathered in 2022 found that racial minorities only made up 7% of the league. Although this news isn’t surprising, it really shows that hockey has a long way to go in becoming a more diverse sport.
Hockey has always been looked at as a white sport and by looking at different sociological, economic, and cultural reasons, you can see why. The hockey community and NHL still has a long way to go in making hockey a more diverse and accessible sport. The term Hockey is for Everyone might not reflect the NHL’s diversity rates, but the creation of this program and the NHL working towards being more inclusive are small steps being made in the right direction.
Rapper and pop icon, Snoop Dogg, said it best when asked about why he wanted to be a potential future owner of the Ottawa Senators. “The kids need to know there’s an option to play hockey if you look like me”, Snoop said to ESPN.
While the lack of diversity in hockey has long been a stain on the sport's legacy, it also presents an opportunity for redemption and growth. The journey towards inclusivity starts with each individual fan, player, coach, and administrator recognizing their role in shaping the game's future. By amplifying the unrepresented voices in hockey and working with initiatives that help make the sport more diverse and accessible, we can rewrite the narrative of hockey. Embracing diversity and promoting accessibility will help pave the way for a new era of hockey.