DECADES OF DAMAGE, PART II – THE BEST WE NEVER SAW
By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor- In – Chief
(Editor’s Note: The recent furor over the tweet from former National Hockey League player Akim Aliu has led to an exposure of indifference, racism and irrational control on the part of coaches in hockey on several levels. To understand the depth of Aliu’s dilemma, we must go back and examine just how entrenched this process actually is…)
PHILADELPHIA (www.basnnewsroom.com) Most hockey fans in America didn’t believe Black people would or could play ice hockey, so the idea of seeing anyone Black on ice was an aberration.
Thanks to two strong willed Canadian brothers, that notion would squashed forever.
George and Darril Fosty researched the roots of hockey’s DNA, and to no surprise, some of those roots – were Black (you think they were playing fucking basketball back then?)
Their epic tome, “Black Ice” traced Black people involved in Canada’s national sport as far back as the late 1800s; with an entire sporting body, the Colored Hockey League – in full effect as early as 1920.
While the premise of pushing White as superior infecting every major sport through the 1920s and 1930s, the 1940s would introduce North America to the best hockey player few had ever seen.
Herb Carnegie was a shifty centre who played for the Toronto Young Rangers in the late 1930s. It is here where the incident with Maple Leafs’ owner Conn Smythe, was rumored to have uttered the venal statement of offering $10, 000 to anyone who could “turn Carnegie white.”
While this has been disputed as to whether this was really said, let’s go straight to the source and find out from the great man himself:
The toxic “compliment” would be indicative of the racism Carnegie would experience through his lifetime in competitive sports.
As the color barriers came down in baseball and football, Carnegie’s sustained excellence carried through the 1940s, where he played semi-pro and became a three time Most Valuable Player in the Quebec Provincial League.
Carnegie, his brother Ossie and Manny MacIntyre would become the most infamous line of the era, their exploits on ice lending to sinister – sounding sobriquets like “The Dark Destroyers” – instead of just damn good hockey players (they shoulda called them ‘the CCM Line’ – how ironic would that be?).
Hockey’s moment to step up came in 1948 when Carnegie tried out for the New York Rangers. He was offered a contract with their minor league affiliate in New Haven, Connecticut, but he declined because was making more money in Quebec…
While it would be years before Willie O’Ree would break the color barrier, Carnegie seized upon the opportunity to make chicken salad outta chicken lips by opening the Future Aces Hockey School in 1953, one of the first of its kind in North America.
Thousands of children not only learned the game, they were given a code of conduct and a path to achievement which would carry far beyond a rink and he did in spite of how hockey had treated him.
If there is any justice, The Hockey Hall of Fame should welcome the addition of Mr. Carnegie as a Founder and a true contributor to the game.
GAME RECOGNIZE GAME
Now, I never got to see Carnegie or the Black Aces Line, but you know they had to be some baaaaaddd Mamma Jammas when they were on the ice to attempt to co – op their existence the way they have done.
One player who did testify to Carnegie’s greatness was Jean Beliveau, one of the greatest to ever grace the ice. Beliveau knew of Carnegie’s exploits in the Quebec Senior Hockey League while there.
In a piece written by Stephen Wickens in 2014 for a Toronto blog spot, Wickens hones in the frustration shared by the two stars at a function celebrating the 50th year of Carnegie’s Future Aces Foundation.
Recalling thoughts of what was done, Carnegie further revealed his fears as Father Time was catching up.
“I’d loved the game since I was 7½,” he says after the discussion is steered back to hockey. “We’d play all day on ponds in Willowdale, then listen on the radio to Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada. I wanted to be a Maple Leaf.”
But that loyalty led only to heartbreak in the late 1930s, when he learned that Leafs owner Conn Smythe was telling people he would pay $10,000 “to anyone who could turn Carnegie white.”
Pigmentation might have ruled out the Leafs, but the smooth-skating centre wouldn’t drop his National Hockey League dream — even if his dad urged him to go to university, instead of “wasting time on a league that will never accept a Black man.”
As racial barriers were coming down in other sports, the hope hockey would follow suit was prevalent in Carnegie’s mind. “I followed Jackie Robinson closely,” Mr. Carnegie says of the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball. Before he made the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mr. Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, not far from Sherbrooke, Que., where Mr. Carnegie was playing hockey. It wasn’t long after Mr. Robinson’s breakthrough, Mr. Carnegie says, that “I got my invitation to the [1948 New York] Rangers training camp.”
(Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Beliveau)
Beliveau believed Carnegie deserved a shot in the big league for the best of reasons; because he was that good, acknowledging his skill while teammates in Quebec. “There were only six teams then, 120 jobs,” Mr. Béliveau says. “But Herbie was very good — a real playmaker who scored his share of goals, a beautiful skater. I will say he never got a fair shot, and it was because of his skin. Everyone in our dressing room loved him. You need those players to win championships.”
Yes you do. So When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman came to face the microphones after Mr. Aliu’s visit to the League office, the hammer officially came down…
According to the League’s web site, here is Bettman’s deliberation:
So, let me now address how we move forward.
“I’d like to convey to you exactly what was said to the Board of Governors during our meeting.
1. We don’t like surprises – the Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise.
Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies, involving NHL Club personnel, on or off the ice, we at the League office – Bill Daly or me – must be immediately advised.
There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.
As it relates to incidents involving Bill Peters in Carolina – there seems to be some confusion between statements by Peter Karmanos and Ron Francis, which I still need to sort out. However, I am fairly clear that none of this has anything to do with Carolina under Tom Dundon, who was among the first to call me when Peters’ conduct came to light and he first learned about the Peters physical abuse allegations in Carolina.
2. While I do not believe most NHL coaches conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner – in fact, I believe most NHL coaches are professional and respectful in the way they coach and the profession is not deserving of blanket condemnation because of the conduct of some individuals – however in order to expedite a change in culture and make clear the expectations we have for the conduct of coaches and other personnel, we will formulate a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.
This program will be required for all Head Coaches, Minor League Coaches under contract with NHL teams, Assistant Coaches, General Managers and Assistant General Managers. We will focus the programming on training and other exercises and initiatives to ensure respectful locker rooms, training facilities, games, and all other hockey-related activities; and teach to ensure bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment, anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices.
The exact structure of the program will be created by outside professionals in the field and we will consult with the Players’ Association and the Coaches’ Association in the program’s creation. We will also discuss with the Players’ Association the extent to which this program or another customized program should be presented to the players.
Also, under the direction of NHL Executive Vice President Kim Davis, we will form a multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey. The council will also make resources available to help any organization that might reach out for assistance.
3. Inappropriate conduct engaged in by club personnel will be disciplined, either by the team, the League or both. While discipline as always must be on a case-by-case basis – it is my intention that it must be severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.
4. In that light, the passage of time is not the most effective way to address these situations. Accordingly, we will create a platform – perhaps a hotline – where instances of inappropriate conduct connected to the NHL can be reported either anonymously or for attribution for us to follow up. It can be any team personnel such as a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself.
In this regard, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation – again either anonymously or for attribution – and I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up. My expectation is that this hotline can function like our SABH hotline, which has been credible and effective.”
“Hockey is for Everyone?” We’ll see…
Willie O’Ree by example, has also been an ambassador to the game. The dilemma of his limited sight coupled with knowing how long it would be before another Black skater may come along is what fueled the strength of Mr. O’ Ree’s character.
One would think Canada would have been proud to have such a man exalt their game; sadly it seemed to take over 60 years – to appreciate him after becoming the first Black player in the NHL 1958.
Just as Buck O’Neil did for baseball, O’Ree was a lifer in pushing love of hockey; and was inducted into The Hockey Hall of Fame. The 45 games he played in – helped hockey, like other major sports – to grow the hell up.
Next time: The Chances
Always outnumbered…never outgunned.