Two Black men who played hockey on Prince Edward Island want the organization that governs hockey in the province to be more serious about tackling racism on the ice.
Last week, Mark Connors, a U-18 hockey player from Halifax, said he was called the N-word several times during a recent tournament on the Island, and that he was told “this is a white man’s sport.”
Josh McKinnon from Brackley Beach, who played for the Summerside Western Capitals for about four years in his youth, said it’s “frustrating” to see these incidents still happening in 2021, well over a decade after his start with the Capitals.
“It’s sickening what he’s going through, looking back on stuff you go through yourself,” he said.
“There’s no word in the English language that can hurt a Caucasian person as much as what Mark was called.”
McKinnon said Hockey P.E.I. doesn’t deal with cases of racism strongly enough. He blames that on a lack of education.
“When it comes to racism, Hockey P.E.I. seems to drop the ball. They even said in an article for CBC that this is a hole in their training,” he said.
“Three weeks for an investigation is just too long,” he said. “You can get handed out a five-game suspension for using a homophobic slur, within the day, with very little investigation [based on] just what the ref says and what the coach or the other player says.”
McKinnon said all forms of discrimination need to be addressed.
Not a ‘white man’s sport’
According to the National Hockey League, the first organized professional hockey league in North America was the Coloured Hockey League in 1895. All players were Black, and the league lasted till 1930.
“That right there kind of sums it up, as some people don’t even know the history,” McKinnon said.
He said it doesn’t matter who invented hockey or who the first players were. Instead, he said, it’s a “privilege” for everyone to play the sport competitively.
Another former hockey player on P.E.I., Marco Thorne, said he was saddened — and not surprised — by the latest incident of racism.
“A lot of people have disbelief. I kind of thought, here we go again,” he said.
“There’s two sides of experience, isn’t it? There’s the receiver of racism, and then there’s people from the outside that say, ‘it’s shocking.’ But on the receiver’s side, it’s not so shocking, because it keeps happening.”
While encountering racism is horrible, Thorne said there is hope in knowing that there are others providing support.
There’s no word in the English language that can hurt a Caucasian person as much as what Mark was called.— Josh McKinnon
“Like myself, when I was younger, you realize that there are incredible people that surround you too in times of need like this,” said Thorne, who played for a junior hockey team in Quebec in the 1980s.
Parents were the problem
Thorne said he faced racism while playing in Quebec, and recalled one incident that happened during a tournament.
“Before game four, I had phone calls, threatened by not the kids on the other [team], but parents on the other side,” he said.
“They said words like the N-word and ‘you don’t belong here’ and all that stuff.”
Thorne agrees with McKinnon that hockey is no one’s sport. Calling it a “white man’s sport” comes from a place of hate, not facts.
“When somebody says it’s a white man’s sport, it comes from an emotional, negative, fearful place. It doesn’t come from fact,” he said, adding, “Mark Connors must be some really good goaltender.”
As for McKinnon, he said Hockey P.E.I. should work with BIPOC groups on the Island to have cultural sensitivity training.
“When I say, talk about racism, it’s not just about Blacks and whites. It’s about all minorities and what some minorities have to go through every day just to be able to do the regular things,” McKinnon said.
On Friday, P.E.I.’s Department of Education and Lifelong Learning said it commended Hockey P.E.I. for its investigation in a written statement.
“There is no place for racist behaviour in sport or in society as a whole,” it said.
“Ensuring equitable and safe opportunities in all levels of sport, and in all areas of life, is important.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.