Let me just start of by saying I am a proud Canadian who is prideful that one of the greatest things about Canada is that someone of honest character can come into Canada and be accepted in Canada despite race or nationality. I would even go as far as to say that come World Cup/ Olympic time, everyone on the streets of the GTA, York Region and beyond in Canada can cheer for two teams, Canada and their country of origin/parent’s origin and no one of Canadian background/origin would bat an eye. However I found myself struggling to keep my pride alive. In fact, I was struggling to keep the question “it wasn’t because he’s black? Right!?” away from my head. Here I was on black history month, calling out probably one of the most non-racist countries in the world on racism during the time where the country celebrates together. From Vancouver to Halifax, from St. Catharines to Yellowknife, everyone was cheering together as Canada wins gold in men’s hockey, but here I was saying “it wasn’t because he was black? Right?” maybe I am an outlier. Maybe I was fishing for something but before I completely fall of the rails, let me take you back to the Olympics and explain.
Last year’s Norris trophy winner P.K Subban made it on to team Canada’s Men’s national hockey team. Seems Reasonable, he is Canadian and can play hockey. However, this was such an issue to get him on this team and some were surprised that he was picked. Despite last year being awarded the Norris Trophy (the very trophy which symbolizes you as the best defensemen in the world) and to this day still being one of the best defensemen in the world today, he was criticized. He was criticized for being cocky, being a quote “risky defensemen”, and for having a bad attitude. Some experts and fans said all of those things he brought were detrimental to team Canada’s success and maybe it’s better if P.K sits this one out. However I found myself saying
“Wait second. All athletes at that level (minus Durant of course) are cocky, I know I was playing high school football and I sucked.”
But I shrugged that off and then another thought popped in my head
“Sure P.K Subban is outspoken but he seems like a good ‘on camera’ guy and doesn’t say anything malicious in nature.”
But again I shrugged that thought off… until another thing popped in my head
“Wait, if anyone in the NHL has a bad attitude its Patrick Kane and he was picked by the USA no questions asked, probably first on the list because he’s good. Subban isn’t half as bad attitude wise and team Canada had trouble fitting him in the roster.”
but with all these questions in my head one more popped in my mind
“Why was it so easy for USA to pick Patrick Kane but so hard for Canada to pick P.K Subban? They’re both good, any country would want those guys on their team.”
Sure enough he got picked but despite that it happened. One and only one explanation came to mind… Patrick Kane is White and P.K Subban is black that’s why. Every one of a different race and even nationality who has come to live and reside in Canada has been there. Where you have been discriminated against but Canada keeps it to a legitimate minimum. So much so that people will even joke about their own race or nationality and know it will not cost them their job but this thought changed everything. This scared me because knowing what Canada represents I didn’t want to think that Mike Babcock, Steve Yzerman and company were thinking of that. Of course they weren’t they just wanted to win and I knew that. However, I thought maybe they were hesitant to put P.K on the team because the fans don’t want P.K on the team and maybe didn’t know if P.K could handle the pressure of the haters. Furthermore with P.K Subban’s reputation, they didn’t know if he would force his game and risk Canada the game. If that was so, were the fans being racist, maybe even sub-consciously? I mean when I type in “P.K Subban” on twitter I see racial jokes, slurs, you name it. But then I thought, he’s on the team it’s not that serious and maybe Canada’s team depth, along with his reputation was the reason. So I brushed it off, and was ready to support Canada for everything during the Olympics.
So skip to the actual Olympics, both the Canadian women and men hockey teams were playing well in the Olympics but I found myself feeling like the glass was half empty… P.K Subban wasn’t playing. Not only did he not play, he didn’t dress except for the second game and he only played three minutes!! And then it happened I started thinking “if he was white would he have gotten a chance for the first game?” I mean it is ludicrous for the reigning Norris trophy winner to sit out the Olympics. “It wasn’t because he was black? Right?” was in my head over and over again. He is a good defensemen who can help. Then again, Canada is winning and the defense is playing great, maybe we don’t want to ruin the chemistry… oh wait the forward lines were being rearranged every game. However I knew defense pairings are about more than who’s good and who’s bad. It’s about who works well together and clearly the defense was working amazing together so P.K wasn’t needed. However that didn’t stop me from coming downstairs on a Sunday morning at 6:30 in church clothes (going to church at 10am) and my heart sinking to my stomach from watching my TV and seeing the CBC crew go to a camera shot at P.K Subban in his jersey and wearing pants and shoes… that’s right he didn’t dress for the Final game. Then I said it (maybe out of disappointment) “it’s because he’s black.”
That day was the one time I threw stats and everything to the wind and told myself that it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that a Norris trophy winner has to sit because of his skin color. I knew he wasn’t going to play but I at least wanted him to dress. I wanted a player that I know can flourish if given the opportunity to play despite his skin color. However, the thing is Canada won Gold. They did it, who cares who played and who didn’t because Canada did it. So I thought maybe I am missing something and I let my emotions get in the way of actually watching the tournament for what it truly is, a good victory for Canada (with some highs and lows but still a good victory). So I left this notion alone, until one Tuesday morning out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at the stats of all the defensemen Canada picked and I was shocked.
Here’s what these stats prove. P.K is statically on a worse team than everyone except Shea Weber and still provides his team which more offensive shots and chances then anyone. What is even more staggering is while having a positive +/-, he has more points than everyone except Duncan Keith and Alex Pietrangelo and the only reason why that is the case is because offensively Duncan Keith and Alex Pietrangelo are playing with Olympians to provide them with a good pass to or the Olympians finish on the two’s passes, P.K on the other hand does not. Regardless you can make an argument that statically P.K can create more of an offensive presence then maybe all of these other defensemen on the roster while still playing solid defense. By the way in terms of responsibility, statically Shea Weber is the most irresponsible with a dismal -10 +/-, yet he was on the first line and played the second most minutes for defensemen on the team (and Weber played Fantastic). This means technically speaking for the opening game P.K Subban should have played more than most of these guys to be given a fair chance and if he wasn’t any good then it would be okay to have him not dress… at least that’s what I think. So still to this day, I'm struggling with this question at 1am in the dead of the night, the famous question popped in my head “It wasn’t because he was black? Right?”
To be honest the answer to that question is… I don’t know. Consciously, P.K Subban got this treatment because of his reputation as a player, and the fact that hockey is truly more than about talent. Coaching and chemistry matters more in the sport of hockey than any other sport, thus it wasn’t because of his skin color. However I can honestly say there have been guys with a worse reputation (i.e. Chris Pronger as a dirty player and an agitator) who have played lots of minutes for team Canada. I can also say that I doubt that if a white player in the NHL had Subban’s skill set and mind set he would be treated this way. At the end of the day the NHL is accepting of him and Canada, his native country is accepting of all races so whether it was because he was black is up to you to decide.
By: Michael Asiffo