“I think we’re going to try to stick with more Western Canadian kids [...]” — Canucks GM Mike Gillis

In July of 2009, the Atlanta Thrashers signed prospect Anthony Stewart, formerly of the Florida Panthers. In the 2009 entry draft, they selected center Evander Kane fourth overall. In a trade deadline swap, they acquired Johnny Oduya, among other pieces, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Ilya Kovalchuk. This past summer, they picked Sweden’s Sebastien Owuya in the sixth round of the 2010 entry draft, acquired Dustin Byfuglien and Akim Aliu in a 9-player trade with Chicago, and signed Nigel Dawes to a two-way deal just prior to the beginning of training camp. Why are these moves significant? All of these players are black.

That’s seven black players (six if you discount Owuya, who has not yet signed an NHL deal) that the Thrashers have acquired in just over a year, in a league that only has about 30 active black players. To put it another way: in the last fourteen months, the Atlanta Thrashers have acquired 20% of the black players in the NHL. On purpose. Considering the sensitivity around racial discourse in North America, one might be hard-pressed to find any member of the Thrashers’ organization foolish enough to admit that they are intentionally acquiring black players, but this is a conspicuous trend. Considering that active acquisition of visible minorities is an unprecedented organizational mandate in the hockey world (both for political reasons and the availability of such players), a discussion of Atlanta’s seemingly race-conscious roster-building is warranted. There are two major questions that need to be answered. First: why are they doing it? Second: is it an acceptable practice? In this article I will explain the uniquely African-American market in Atlanta, and why the Thrashers’ strategy is a good one.

Atlanta has such a large black community that it is often called “The Black Mecca.” While the total population of Atlanta is just shy of 5 million, Atlanta’s black community accounts for over 1.5 million of that total–almost 1/3 of the population. What makes Atlanta different from other heavily-black areas, however, is the near-preponderance of a black middle class. According to the 2008 Atlanta Census Report, almost half (48%) of Atlanta’s black community members own their homes and the median black household income is just under $40,000 a year. 25% of blacks are college graduates, which means large numbers of blacks among mid-sized corporations. Much of this is owed to the Atlanta University Center (AUC), which has six historically Black colleges and produces more Black post-graduates than any College system besides Howard University. There are more than 60,000 black-owned companies in Atlanta, including the nation’s largest black-owned construction company (H.J. Russel Company). Atlanta is a city bursting at the seams with black entrepreneurs, and Atlanta hockey needs their dollars.

Hockey is an alarmingly white sport. It is also, unfortunately, an elite sport, as the cost of involvement (either as an attendee or a participant of games) tends to rule out lower-class interest. Sports such as basketball and soccer, which require much less money and equipment to play, draw in the lower classes, but it is the upper and middle classes that are usually involved in hockey. This is one reason we see very few blacks in the game. Urban Legends, a recent The Hockey News article on Chris Stewart and Wayne Simmonds’s difficult road to the NHL–a must-read if this topic interests you–explained some of the issues facing lower-income families. “The costs to play [hockey] are astronomical,” writes Ken Campbell. “It is not uncommon for a family to spend $10,000 a year to have a member participate at the highest level of minor hockey.”

The socioeconomic standing of much of the black community, unfortunately, just doesn’t allow for hockey’s necessary expenditures. In the same article, Stewart admits, “I think every game before I take the faceoff, ‘If I can’t do this, I’m taking food out of my sisters’ mouths.” Powerful stuff. Campbell also mentions SKILLZ, a non-profit hockey organization aimed at diversification and serving kids from immigrant families. A list of its graduates is an alarmingly comprehensive list of hockey’s black players: Kevin Weekes, Jamal Mayers, Anson Carter, Chris & Anthony Stewart, Trevor Daley, Joel Ward, and P.K. Subban. It is clear from this article and the realities of the situation that, without reaching out to the black community, they will never find their way to hockey.

This cannot happen in Atlanta. Atlanta’s black community could not only support a hockey team and produce talented players from within its black middle-class families; it must, in order for the Thrashers to reap a large enough chunk of the market share to survive. The Thrashers have failed, in the past, to connect with this vital demographic in any meaningful way, and much of this has to do with the lack of black representation within their locker room, let alone the game itself.

I am a black hockey fan. Black players have been conspicuously absent from the NHL as long as I’ve been alive. I grew up playing the EA Sports’ NHL games. I used to try to create an all-black team (typically called the Blacks, or the All-Blacks, until I discovered New Zealand’s Rugby team). This never went anywhere, as Jarome Iginla was always forced to play center and usually had to skate between Donald Brashear and Peter Worrell. And, even when, at the zenith of my desperation, I would add Manny Malhotra to the mix, I never managed to get the 20 players necessary to qualify the team.

I also used to create myself so that, like all hockey video gamers, I could pretend I was awesome at real hockey. For most of my life, creating a semi-realistic self was impossible, as the default player profile in these games was a white guy. Worse, there was no way to change this; it seemed the folks at EA considered whiteness a foregone conclusion. As a young kid, it made me a little sensitive about my skin colour. I got the sense that the NHL wasn’t for me, a sentiment that I believe is echoed by far too many blacks. I kept coming back, however, because I loved playing the games, and I eventually discovered that if I wanted to be black and good at hockey in EA’s NHL, my one option was to edit the profile of Jarome Iginla. At that time, he was the only coloured skill player in the league.

These days, EA provides a few different options for the skin tone of the player you create, but it took them far too long. They should be ashamed. And still, the possibility of a minority in hockey, even on the video-gaming end, continues to be underconsidered: in last year’s NHL 2k10, Wayne Simmonds–who was not yet established enough to receive anything but the default player profile–is white. It’s a dumb mistake that should never have been made, and just serves to reinforce the falsity that hockey is a “white sport.”

All of this is to say that I have a vested interest in what the Atlanta Thrashers are doing, both because of my own visible minority status and because their practice is in direct contravention to the hockey world’s previous nonchalance regarding the involvement of black people in hockey. Here I refer both to the players and the consumers, as both are connected, and a strong presence among one group will lead, invariably, to an increase in participation among the other. More black players means more black consumers will take interest in the team; more black consumers means more black children will be raised around hockey. Atlanta is actively seeking to engage their black audience by increasing the incidence of black players in Thrasher uniforms. Black celebrities too. This is a good idea.

Those that might disagree are going to do so because of the perception of racial bias, or perhaps blatant racism, but that’s not what’s going on here. Much of racism is about exclusion on account of race (you can’t be here or you can’t marry her on account of your race), and the Thrashers are not excluding anybody. There’s no affirmative action happening here either. Evander Kane was the best available player with the 3rd pick in the 2009 draft, and may very well have been the impetus for this entire shift in organizational philosophy. He fell into their laps, and he is a player you can build a team around. Johnny Oduya and Dustin Byfuglien are talented players as well. This isn’t like my attempt to create an all-black team, where I promoted black players to roles they were not suited for. Atlanta is acquiring skilled guys that would fit on any team; their blackness is a bonus. If, on the flipside, they were attempting to purge their dressing room of a specific ethnic group, that would be racial exclusion, and I would have a problem with that.

One might look to the recent troubles of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers as an example of racial exclusion, and I should first qualify this by saying that I am, embarrassingly, a huge Indiana Pacers fan. My first real exposure to basketball was Reggie Miller’s epic Eight Points in Nine Seconds. I’ve loved the Pacers ever since. I was a Pacers fan during the now-infamous Brawl at the Palace, when Ron Artest jumped into the crowd and a fight erupted between players and fans. That incident began an era of foolish and unprofessional conduct for the Pacers, resulting in a local backlash against the team’s thuggish core that forced Pacers’ management to make roster changes.

Unlike Atlanta, which is nearly one-third black, Indiana’s population is 88% white. While basketball is an important part of their state identity, they pride themselves on a particularly “white” playing style, characterized by fundamentals, sportsmanship, humility, and teamwork. (Think of the guy at the street court who can do all sorts of fancy AND1 Mixtape moves but can’t perform a bounce pass or a left-handed layup.) Consider that Indiana’s greatest basketball export is NBA legend Larry Bird, who could do everything well while still being a humble, down-home kind of guy. In this context, it should go without saying that the Brawl at the Palace and the ensuing incidents were antithetical to Indiana basketball. From a Peter May article at Yahoo! Sports:

Indiana added to its woes in the ensuing months and years with a number of embarrassing off-the-court incidents involving its players (strip clubs and guns are never a good mix). The fans turned away in droves; in 2006-07 the Pacers were 28th in attendance and, the following season, fell to rock bottom, No. 30.

The misconduct of the Indiana roster disconnected the Pacers from a fanbase that expected humility, honour and teamwork from its basketball players. The team has been on the brink of bankruptcy ever since. Unfortunately, the common skin colour of the offenders made race a major issue, and over the next few years, the Pacers suspiciously acquired quiet, unassuming white players: Peja Stojakovic, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Tyler Hansbrough, etc. Pacers’ people have denied they were performing any sort of racial roster cleanse. Maybe they weren’t, but like the Atlanta Thrashers, the acquisition of so many minority players (in this case, a white minority) will raise eyebrows.

Is the whitening of the Pacers–if indeed it was intentional–worse than what Atlanta is doing? Yes, because they were specifically purging their roster of black players. The difference between the two cases is the difference between exclusion and inclusion. That said, a community needs to feel a connection to its team in order to spend money on it, and the Indiana community will never connect to thuggery. You can see why Pacers’ management might lean towards safe, white players. It’s not fair, but blame the thuggish black players who propagate negative black stereotypes at the same time you blame the white fans for buying into them. And the fans should be ashamed. Let’s continue.

If you think your team is above acquiring players for reasons of ethnicity–you’d be wrong. Consider the celebrity of Don Cherry, who makes a living valuing Canadianness over skill. Just last year he took Paul Kukla to task for his claim, based on Corsi stats, that Ryan Johnson was the worst player in the NHL (and, to Cherry’s disgust 5:28 into the clip, Marian Hossa the best). While Cherry never came out and said it, Johnson’s fearlessness reflected Cherry’s ideals regarding Canadian hockey, and it therefore warranted a defense. Cherry’s been accused of racism before and walked away unscathed because the players he discriminates against aren’t visible minorities (so it’s not racism–it’s ethnocentrism). That said, he’s never going to be fully held accountable for this, because his biases are shared by the majority of Canadian hockey fans.

Hockey is so enmeshed in the Canadian national identity that Canadians will always feel uneasy when our players are the minority on our hockey teams. For us, Canadianness is an attribute of the game of hockey, and we don’t want foreigners representing it because, as foreigners, they simply can’t. A recent survey by the Association for Canadian Studies showed that 53 per cent of respondents believe Canadian-based NHL teams should have a minimum percentage of Canadian players. The reality is that, just like the Atlanta fanbase, Canadian hockey fans have a unique identity and a strong sense of themselves. As stakeholders, we expect that to be reflected in the makeup of our teams. If you find yourself disagreeing with this assessment, let’s look at two examples: The Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks.

Quebecers are particularly sensitive to Canadian representation on their hockey team. In the above survey, an alarming 72% of French-Canadians supported a mandated quota of Canadian players. (As a sidenote, I personally feel this overwhelming public opinion played a huge role in Montreal’s stubborn determination to keep Carey Price over Jaro Halak). But there’s more: Quebecers expect French-Canadian representation. Every year, there seems to be a rumour that Vincent LeCavalier or some such other star Francophone is headed to Montreal, as the city has been clamoring for a French-Canadian figurehead for years.
The province of Quebec is insistent that their team’s players be representative of their identity. In fact, when I began writing this article, I had not yet heard the ludicrous comments made last week by Parti Quebecois language critic Pierre Curzi, who claimed, according to Daniel Halton’s report, the lack of Francophone players on the Canadiens was part of a federalist plot to rob Quebecers of a cherished symbol of their identity. It was unsubtle nationalism, so boorish that Ted Bird at CTV Montreal claimed Curzi could take subtlety lessons from Don Cherry. Curzi came under fire almost immediately for his comments, but he’s just spouting an extreme version of the same sticking point Quebecers have adhered to since the club’s inception. From Canadiens blog Habs Eyes on the Prize:

One year after the birth of the Montreal Canadiens, known then as Le Club Athletic Canadiens, it was decided that this would become the franchise that would cater to the desires of the french speaking clientele. Slowly but surely it filled it’s roster with french names [...]

Despite Montreal management claiming otherwise, nationality will always factor into their roster-building strategy. At the end of the same report, Daniel Halton tells us that 1/3 of the players trying to make this year’s Montreal team are Quebecers. That is the highest percentage you’ll find anywhere in the NHL. Halton: “Management insists their skills on the ice–not the language they speak–will determine who makes the cut.” This may true, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on the lookout for NHL-quality Francophones, especially after last year’s playoff run, which piqued fan interest and nationalistic scrutiny at the same time. Suggestions that there’s an “Anti-Francophone Virus” in Montreal grew suddenly louder after the Canadiens were, ironically, eliminated by a Philadelphia Flyers team led by Francophones like Simon Gagne, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere. Montreal noticed that; they weren’t happy.

One could argue that Quebecois nationalism in hockey is out of control, but you have to realize that the hand of the Canadiens is forced: in order to garner continued support for their hockey club, they must pander to a desire for Canadian–and especially Francophone–representation. Just like Atlanta, Montreal is a community with a specific ethnic priority. That community needs to feel a connection to the team in order to stand–or, in this case, remain standing–behind it.

For British Columbians scoffing at how ridiculous this sounds, be aware that your team is no better. If Montreal’s nationalistic explanation for their loss to Philadelphia seems shortsighted, consider the similar line of reasoning in Vancouver following two consecutive postseason eliminations by the Chicago Blackhawks, a team full of BCers. Consider the furor over Markus Naslund’s captaincy and the Euro-captain debate in general, or the annual cries by some that the team has too many Swedes. Consider general manager Mike Gillis’s response to a fan inquiring about the pursuit of Russian players at July’s Summer Summit: “I think we’re going to stick with more Western Canadian kids,” Gillis said, to a hearty applause. It was little more than clever pandering in an effort to dodge a silly question. But, it worked because BC fans fear foreign takeover like all other Canadian fanbases, and expect BC-born players on the roster.

It’s been said that there are two Canadas: English and French. This division is palpable, but there are actually three Canadas: Quebec, naturally, and the East and West Coasts. Much of the pressure to give Henrik Sedin the Hart trophy came from West-Coasters sore over constantly being overlooked by what they feel is a hockey media with an East Coast bias. West-Coasters have a tendency to feel underrepresented in Canadian media (right or wrong), often jealously calling Toronto “The Center of the Universe.” This tension bleeds into our hockey teams. Just like Quebecers expect for French-Canadians to represent their unique micro-community within the macrocosm of Canada, we demand a Western-Canadian presence.

It’s why all Canuck fans know that Dan Hamhuis is from Smithers and Willie Mitchell is from Port McNeill. It’s why it matters that Brendan Morrison is from Pitt Meadows, and don’t underestimate Morrison’s role as the BC-born pivot for the West Coast Express during their heyday. He allowed Canuck fans to take complete ownership of that line. It’s even why it seems to take heavy community involvement (Trevor Linden’s charity work or the Sedins’ massive donation to the BC Children’s Hospital) from our star players before we accept them completely. To hail from any birthplace but in Western Canada is to be a foreigner, and we need to be able to claim them as our own to get behind them fully.

The ultimate no-brainer was Indo-Canadian forward Manny Malhotra, who fit the Canucks’ need for a third-line center, but also has notable BC connections and shares his heritage with a large portion of the Canuck fanbase (drive down South Fraser Way in Abbotsford after a playoff win to see this firsthand). The Vancouver Canucks have the largest Indo-Canadian fan following among Canadian teams, and just happen to have the only two Indo-Canadian players in the NHL in their organization, with Malhotra and Surrey native Prab Rai. Yes, Malhotra’s skillset was likely the major factor behind his donning the orca, but don’t kid yourself: it wasn’t the only one. It never is.

Back to the Atlanta Thrashers. All of this is to say that, from a business perspective, I support their strategy of acquiring black players. It is imperative to their success that they engage their community in the same way that Vancouver, Montreal, Indiana, and many other sporting communities do. As we’ve seen, the way to do this (short of winning, which isn’t an option for Atlanta) is to give your team a local connection. A Georgian birth certificate is a rarity in the NHL, but black players are beginning not to be. In Atlanta, this needs to be apparent in order for hockey to gain any momentum there.

That said, while I don’t blame ownership for pandering to a fanbase’s unease with otherness and foreignness (they have to do what will sell tickets), I do blame these fanbases in Canada, where hockey is already established. Our teams are forced to consider and carefully manage the foreign element when building their rosters because of our mean-spirited nationalism and ethnocentrism, and that is unacceptable.
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95 comments

  1. JoGuitar
    September 27, 2010

    Fantastic article. I noticed this trend from Altlanta as well. I agree it can only be a good thing. Great read.

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  2. Anonymous
    September 27, 2010

    Excellent read. If one Hotlanta kid goes out and buys a Kane jersey and starts playing hockey, kudos to the Thrash.

    The key is unlike Montreal's strategy of adding just any French-Canadian, Atlanta's strategy will work because the players they are acquiring are talented and possibly a franchise player in Evander "The Real Deal" Kane. Looking forward to a big year from the Thrashers!

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  3. Anonymous
    September 27, 2010

    Hmm.. The Oilers in the past have employed Grant Fuhr, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque, Anson Carter, Fred Brathwaite, and recently a young Shawn Belle. Not to mention countless other foreign players. These people have been embraced and cherished by the fans for years. Not because of their nationality but because of their quality of play and character. Beside from Montreal's plain view bias towards Francophone players, your Vancouver example is a little flimsy. Willie Mitchell is no longer on the team for that matter. I can't say I agree with your article. Fans care about their team winning. Not where the left winger was born. Closing: If the Atlanta Thrashers make it to the cup final, many of Atlanta's black hockey fans would be in attendance no matter what nationalities comprise the team.

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  4. Harrison
    September 27, 2010

    You're right, Anonymous #2, that if a team is winning, all this stuff goes out the window. But Atlanta needs to survive even when they're not wining, which is the norm right now.

    As far as Edmonton goes, they didn't go out and actively pick up all of those black players within a suspiciously short span. Also, at this point, Edmonton will take anybody who is willing to sign there. They just need to get back to winning.

    Did you know that the Thrashers actually drafted a black player in the 5th round AND the 6th round of the 2010 draft? Ben Wright just told me about Yasin Cisse. That's crazy.

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  5. Anonymous
    September 27, 2010

    While agree with your assessment that the Thrashers are indeed signing a lot of black players, I believe that the chance for success will be limited is because I believe that they are doing it mainly doing it for marketing purposes. Although Oduya is a very good defenseman, the only real top prospect out of the seven is Evander Kane. After watching Kane play last season my opinion is that regardless of skin color, this kid is going to be a big name.
    I've attended most Thrasher home games the last seven years and 99.9% of the faces at these games are white. With the traditionally black basketball team, the Hawks, as the Thrashers brothers in Phillips Arena, the Atlanta Spirit, LLC latest poor attempt at marketing will surely fail.

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  6. Rachael
    September 27, 2010

    Very intriguing, Harrison. As a sociology major, I highly enjoyed reading this. The next topic you should tackle? How Canadians secretly don't want hockey to become popular in the US.

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  7. Harrison
    September 27, 2010

    Ha ha, unfortunately, it'd be the same basic article.

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  8. Sadie
    September 27, 2010

    Great read. Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together.

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  9. Tamar
    September 28, 2010

    Excellent read! I hope it works for ATL on all levels. It would be nice to see hockey cross over.

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  10. Admiral-Akbar
    September 28, 2010

    What an excellent read. Thank you for putting this together. As an Atlanta resident and a diehard Thrashers fan, I did notice an increase in black fans at the games once the much heralded Evander Kane was drafted and put on the Thrashers roster. I sat next to several black fans at the games and not surprisingly, most (but not all) were either very new to the sport or first timers.
    Connecting to your fanbase is essential. If this is the best way, then kudos to the front office. I would love nothing more than to see Atlanta become a hockey town as a whole, no matter what color fans are in the stands- as long as we all bleed Thrasher Blue!

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  11. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    I think you're being a bit hard on EA in this otherwise excellent article – even as far back as 1999, I had no real issues with creating "me" – and my family's originally from Karachi. Maybe that's changed in recent years, but I also remember one of the 2K games having a bug that made EVERY drafted player black.

    (Actually, it's funny – franchise mode tends to diversify the NHL more than real life, as created players are generated randomly, giving increased odds of a non-white default)

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  12. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    This is an amazing read; well thought out and researched. This, along with the humour and sarcasm, is why I check this site out everyday now.

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  13. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    You stated… "Is the whitening of the Pacers–if indeed it was intentional–worse than what Atlanta is doing? Yes, because they were specifically purging their roster of black players. The difference between the two cases is the difference between exclusion and inclusion."

    The difference between exclusion and inclusion is the perspective. No, I don't believe that Indiana is doing something worse (if intentional) than Atlanta. If intentional, I believe that both teams are equally bad. The inclusion of one group or exclusion of another based on race is wrong – no matter which side of the aisle you're trying to pander to.

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  14. Skeeter
    September 28, 2010

    Attempting to provide strong black role models for young kids to emulate is wrong?

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  15. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    In regards to the Pacers and their "whitening," the change was never about skin color, it was about conduct. I'm not sure how this compares to Atlanta, but as you mentioned, Indiana has a "fanbase that expected humility, honour and teamwork from its basketball players." The same rings true for all of the sports with athletes like Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, and Reggie Wayne being embraced for their positives on the field and their conduct off it.

    There was no whitewashing with the Pacers. The Pacers didn't seek Peja Stojakovic, Ron Artest drove his value into the ground. The Pacers didn't seek Dunleavy and Murphy, they needed to dump Stephen Jackson (which required Al Harrington). The common thread with both players was their misconduct, not the color of their skin. As proof, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert are (as) embraced (as a Pacer can be without the wins seen in the 90's) because they've shown positive conduct as athletes in Indianapolis.

    The Pacers were simply fixing problems to reconnect with their fanbase. The returns should not be looked at as racially intentional, but rather conduct intentional.

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  16. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    Good post — Bird Watchers Anonymous had a great fan post on this very subject a few weeks ago.
    http://www.birdwatchersanonymous.com/2010/9/9/1679841/thrashers-diversity

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  17. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    good read, i am native-canadian, we also have similar issues. we are a very proud people and still cant figure out why reggie leach is not in the hall of fame.

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  18. CarlPeelash
    September 28, 2010

    Excellent read. I noticed the trend, especially after the Byfuglien/Aliu deal… I was going to write a similar post, but this would have put me to shame. Very well done; I think it's a great marketing strategy for the Thrashers. They haven't won anything to draw in the fans, and it doesn't look like they will anytime soon… and having superstars didn't put people in the stands either. Well done.

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  19. Razor Catch Prey
    September 28, 2010

    Great post. I'm a Thrasher season ticket holder and am all for bringing in black players as long as they deserve the roster spot. Kane, Byfuglien, and Oduya absolutely do, Aliu might some day, and who can tell with sixth round pick Owuya?

    Race is one issue with hockey in Atlanta, but it's not close to the biggest one. The biggest issue is that hockey itself is foreign. I mention to my friends that I'm going to a game and they make a face like I said I was going to a Celine Dion concert. They don't understand why I would spend time on hockey when I could be deer hunting and talking about the Georgia Bulldogs. They find it offensive.

    We have to get as many people as possible to give hockey a chance and to fall in love with it. Bringing in black players will send a message to one third of our population that it's ok to like hockey. You don't have to let Chris Rock tell you that hockey is just for white people.

    Now if we could have only traded Todd White for Jarome Iginla…

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  20. TJBF
    September 28, 2010

    I could care less if Atlanta drafts mexicans, asians, or aliens.

    But it is kind of insulting to Tyler Hansborough that you implied the Pacers drafted him solely because he is white. I'd like to think being the only 4-time all-american would count for something. He wasn't drafted out of position either.

    If you go out of your way to say Kane was deserving of the 3rd overall pick, you can mention that Hansborough wasn't NOT deserving of his draft choice.

    Oh by the way if you did some research, go to indianapacers.com. They have the team's starting 5 on the top of the page. Four black guys and Tyler Hansborough. So much for a white wash.

    P.S. Danny Granger is a class act.

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  21. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    I agree with what RCP posted above. I'm a Thrashers season ticket holder and also get weird looks when I tell coworkers I'm going to a Thrashers game.

    I grew up in Atlanta and went to a football-centric school in the Southeast but always liked hockey from afar. My parents are from New York and I remember growing up and watching playoff hockey on ESPN with my Dad from time to time.

    Once we got the team in '99 I went to a few games and loved watching the games live but went off to college in 2001. After graduating and moving back to Atlanta I started going to games through company tickets and from there my interest skyrocketed. You have to watch the game live (IMO) to realize how fast the game is and how entertaining it can be.

    I've converted my parents and siblings into big Thrashers fans and I think if we can get people in the building, regardless of race, and start winning games the arena will start to fill up.

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  22. Xterratu
    September 28, 2010

    I myself am a hockey writer and this is a piece of brilliant writing. As for the Price point, I think you nailed it. I feel especially connected to that part of the article since I'm a Croat, living in Zagreb, Croatia and writing about NHL hockey. I don't feel segregate, quite the opposite in fact, since I have received loads of support for my writing from other Canadian authors and people in the Leafs community, but I know there are undoubtedly some that question my knowledge of the game purely based on the fact I'm European with an "outside view" of the game. As far as Atlanta is concerned,yes, I do believe that one way of attracting viewers is fitting that specific market and since they hadn't made a bad hockey move when going for specific black players makes me think the strategy is not only non racial, but also very successful, at least since Kane was drafted. He's among my favorite players, and Iginla my favorite player – and I'm white. In the end, I believe if they had to draft Evander Kane or Patrick Kane they'd choose Patrick. Simply because it's the right hockey choice. But if you can get both market approval AND hockey sound decisions why not do it? Once again, great piece.

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  23. Colin Mochrie
    September 28, 2010

    Great Article. I hope Atlanta succeeds in this 10-20 year plan. Assuming the Thrashers can hold on in Atlanta.

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  24. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    A very interesting article, but you made one very simple mistake.

    Evander Kane was drafted 4th overall, after Matt Duchene of Colorado, not 3rd.

    "Evander Kane was the best available player with the 3rd pick in the 2009 draft,"

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  25. Derek
    September 28, 2010

    This was a phenomenal article and a very good read. Thanks to PuckDaddy, I'll be checking back here regularly. Excellent work.

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  26. Katie
    September 28, 2010

    Wow this was an excellent article. It's a rarity now to find articles with such in-depth research and analysis. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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  27. Jason Clinkscales
    September 28, 2010

    Ran into this piece via Twitter and I appreciate what's being said here.

    Last October for an online magazine called Norman Einstein's Magazine, I wrote about what I think we can agree are a growing legion of minority fans in the game. In writing it, I didn't dig deeper into how teams would use player movement to attract the crowds, consciously or not.

    I've never been to Atlanta (or anywhere in Canada, for that matter), but I'm certainly aware of the sizable and more affluent black populus in the area. Yet, this fascinating in that with the folks I interviewed in October, these were fans in established NHL markets; notably winning or at least large markets. Being that this is ATL's second foray into the NHL, I wonder if management and ownership had considered making a push like this when the Thrashers were born (even if it would take a few years to find black players of note).

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  28. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    Once again we see it is ok for Black to be racist. Time for Whites to wake up and start again.

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  29. Skeeter
    September 28, 2010

    @Most Recent Anonymous

    Yes, because talking about race is equivalent to being racist. *sigh*

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  30. Greg
    September 28, 2010

    Great read. I think you make a lot of interesting and accurate points.

    I would also note that it's probably no coincidence the Nashville Predators drafted Blake Geoffrion- a native of Nashville suburb Brentwood, TN.

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  31. Harrison
    September 28, 2010

    @Most Recent Anonymous

    I find it ironic that zealous racists like yourself understand so little about what racism is.

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  32. Greg in SLC
    September 28, 2010

    Great article. A couple of random comments.
    - When I was in the US Air Force stationed in Washington DC I volunteered with a youth program called Kids On Ice at the Fort Dupont Ice rink. It was a program similar to the ones you mentioned and basically gave ice time and equipment to the boys from the hood. Holy Smokes could those kids play. Really some of the best minor hockey I've ever seen. With more programs like that we will continue to see great black kids rise through the ranks, and I'm proud to have been associated with KOI.

    -I lived in Atlanta last season and I have thought the recent additions to the club are certainly no accident. HOWEVER I think it will take much more than that for Philips arena (one of my fav's in the league btw) to fill up. The problem is that its right downtown, noboody lives downtown, and the traffic in Atlanta is the worst in the country. They have no problems getting fans from opposing teams in the building, but going to games is a huge pain in the ass. Even for a huge hockey guy like me, the 2.5 hours it takes to get to the game and the fact that parking cost's more than a game ticket (serious) is just too much. But if you are ever in the ATL, Thrash games are a good value. You can buy a ticket for 10 bucks, sit wherever you want and down 32 oz of whatever beer you want for 6 bucks in the CNN lobby before going in. And they server Molson inside to make you Canucks feel at home.

    -Also I live in UT now and the Jazz definetely love them some white folks too.

    That is all. Sorry this comment is as long as the article. But for real, if you are ever in the ATL hit up a game, for you Canadians you won't believe it til you see it, but everything above is true about the value and being able to sit on the glass if you want to.

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  33. chris
    September 28, 2010

    Great read – thanks.

    The Thrashers have steadily brought more blacks to games over the years – it's a long process. I don't think what they're doing should be considered a 'marketing stunt' but rather just smart business.

    I read somewhere that Atlanta GM Rick Dudley has some black ancestry as well, and he's the one pulling the trigger on these deals.

    Also – the above commentator on the Utah Jazz is correct. I always thought they should've changed their name to the Utah Salt – it would've been more accurate.

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  34. ungar
    September 28, 2010

    I was nodding my head in agreement throughout the article until I read that the Pacers fans "should be ashamed".
    Why is that, Harrison?

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  35. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    Very good article but I think there is one aspect missing…

    "Our teams are forced to consider and carefully manage the foreign element when building their rosters because of our mean-spirited nationalism and ethnocentrism, and that is unacceptable."

    I don't believe it is mean-spirited.
    I believe part sport's appeal to many fans, on a base level, is as a civilized version of war.

    I believe that if the makeup of your local team doesn't represent the identity of your area then you don't feel you have an 'army' in the 'war' and therefore have less reason to care about the battle. It might as well take place in another country.

    I don't believe it's "mean-spirited nationalism and ethnocentrism", it's just wanting a representative 'army' to be in the battle so you have something to root for.

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  36. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    Adding to the sport as war thought…

    If the 'army' (local team) isn't made up of your 'soldiers' (players representative of the area), then it's just a bunch of people fighting and you have no pride to gain or lose… no skin in the 'war'

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  37. Joel
    September 28, 2010

    I think that people like to root for others that are similar to them. This can be based on looks, age, birthplace, charitable givings, personalities (as you have stated), etc. Race definately plays a part in this so I don't see a problem with what the Thrasher's but they have to be careful because its not the only thing that people relate to (for example I am a white guy from Dallas but I would root for Donavon McNabb to do well before Tony Romo because of their personalities, and I hate the Eagles and the Redskins). Canadians will root for a hard nosed physical player regardless of their country of origin because that style of play has been personified by Canadians (how many Canadians would pass on Dustin Brown on their team?).

    I must disagree with the Pacers reference as being "shameful" by the fans. They wanted to root for a team of players they like and there is nothing for a middle age, middle class white man in Indiana (target demographic) to like about a team full of gun toting tattoo covered criminals. If you are ok with the Thrashers roster movements then you hvae to be ok with the Pacer's movements. As it was stated before it depends on your perspective and if you place yourself in each target markets shoes both changes make sense and both fall under the "inclusion" tag you have outlined (minorities in their own sport deserving of roster spots and matching their respective market's demographics).

    Not tryng to take away from the article however as it was a very good, thought provoking read. Ever since Evander Kane KO'ed Matt Cooke he jumped up alot of people's list for their favorite player regardless of their skin color! Something about knocking out a superpest far surpasses any sort of demographic study!

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  38. Anonymous
    September 28, 2010

    Excellent Article.

    As a Hispanic who grew up playing hockey from Bantam to College and now in the Beer Leagues, I know how hard it is to participate on a financial level. But I love the game and preach that love to whoever will listen.

    The marketing strategy by Atlanta, though not overt, is a smart one. The only thing that would have made this push stronger is if Kevin Weeks were a couple of years younger. With him in net, you'd see lots of African-Americans in Atlanta gravitating to the Thrashers.

    Of course, his good looks and articulate nature lend themselves well to the broadcast booth. Though it may be in Atlanta's best interest to hire him as a commentary man for TV coverage, I wonder at the same time if such a move would be too overt.

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  39. Harrison
    September 28, 2010

    Ungar, I'm in the camp that thinks Pacers fans' turned away from their team for racist reasons. I feel that, unlike Atlanta, who is trying to add black players to the roster, Indiana's primary intention was to REMOVE black players from the roster, and those are very different things.

    I recognize that this is one of the more controversial statements in my article because a) it's solely my opinion and b) the difference between what Atlanta's doing and what Indiana did is rather nuanced and possibly coloured by my particular bias. Still, it's what I believe, and you are welcome to believe otherwise. Thanks for calling me out.

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  40. ungar
    September 29, 2010

    Thanks for the response Harrison.
    This wasn't a call out, just asking for some clarification.
    I personally don't know if the reason Indiana fans turned away from the Pacers was racial, because I never saw evidence of this.
    I do understand that the love of the local fanbase grew cold after the many incidents of bad behavior of several players. I suspect if white players were doing the same bad behavior the fans would not be amused.

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  41. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010

    Harrison, what is the basis of your opinion that "Pacers fans turned away from their team for racist reasons."
    As previously commented, basketball is part of the Indiana culture. Conseco Fieldhouse is one of the best basketball venues in the NBA. Pacers fans love basketball.
    Please go look at the team records and roster for the past 20 years before you make your judgement. The fans didn't turn away for racist reasons. They got turned off by the collapse of the team. From the late 80's through early 2000's, the team battled Boston (w/Bird, McHale, & Parrish), then Detroit (w/the Bad Boys), then Chicago (w/Jordan), and of course New York. The old Market Square Arena was a sell-out because they played quality basketball. I remember players like Vern Fleming, Chuck Person, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Mark Jackson, and of course Reggie Miller. The Pacers fans supported the basketball team when the news about them is found in the sports section, not the police blotter. The Pacers fans would be equally turned off if the players in the paper were white, hispanic, european, or asian. In Indiana, it's about basketball.
    Also, you may not have noticed that the Pacers are the Indiana Pacers, not Indianapolis Pacers. They represent the State of Indiana in the NBA. When national news talk about the brawl, shootings and strip clubs, instead of playoff runs and "9 points in 8 seconds," it makes it hard to support them. How about you consider which team would you want to be known for? I believe that if the Pacers begin playing better basketball, the fans will return.

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  42. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010

    Sorry, just noted the typo (or maybe a fan getting a little carried away) but it was "8 points in 9 seconds."
    Harrison, I'm not calling you out, but just wanted to add some more perspective for you to base your opinion on.
    It's a good article. But as you can tell, I don't agree with the Pacers angle.

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  43. Sean
    September 29, 2010

    Wow. Really well thought-out post. I'm not sure I agree with all of your points, but I appreciate you taking a stance and presenting it.

    I'm a Thrashers fan from South Carolina. I'm not sure that having more black players on the team will encourage more black residents to attend games. But I do think if we have a black star player — Evander Kane could become that guy — it might encourage more local black kids to decide to play hockey. It's more likely that it helps people decide to play or come watch a game if they're *already* thinking it might be a good idea.

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  44. Harrison
    September 29, 2010

    Hey last Anonymous,

    It's fair you don't agree. I'd say of all the statements I made in this one, my take on the Pacers was probably the best one to contest. It's a toss-up.

    Winning is the real key anywhere. The truth is that if the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup last year, Pierre Curzi wouldn't have said what he did. Nobody cares about sticky issues like local representation if their team is winning.

    But, in the Pacers case, I feel like they've been willing to embrace black winners/community guys (Granger, Hibbert, hopefully Collison), but those guys have to qualify themselves first. Remember that I'm a huge Indiana Pacers fan and I have been my whole life. Their treatment of Reggie Miller before he dragged the team to near-greatness for the better part of a decade and a half was appalling, and is definitely a major reason I don't give them the benefit of the doubt here.

    But, if others do, more power to ya. As–again–a huge Indiana Pacers fan, I'd be happy to believe their fanbase doesn't have a lingering problem with blackness. But I don't believe that, and the circumstances surrounding their franchise as long as I've been a fan have indicated otherwise.

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  45. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010

    Honestly, I'm not to thrilled with your selling of the sport to minorities by posting a picture of a rapper throwing signs. That is one thing I'm really glad isn't found around the realms of hockey. Before you play the race card here, let me clarify that all I'm referring to is the dysfunctional "it's all about me" atttude that the rap crowd posseses.

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  46. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010

    *attitude

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  47. Puckhead
    September 29, 2010

    I don't agree Pacers fans are being racist either and "but those guys have to qualify themselves first." doesn't say racism to me either…

    If a player on a team isn't already seen as one of their own by the fans the team represents then the fans need time to decide whether to adopt them as one of their own in order to root for them… it doesn't mean it's racist.

    If you could substitute an all black Pacers team for an all Swedish white team then I'd guess the team would have to win over the fans and not be automatically supported.

    I'd also guess if it was all players from Indiana they would have had fan support from the start for being one of their own but also would have lost it if they were shooting up strip clubs.

    The leap to racism is a backwards step.

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  48. ilevy
    September 29, 2010

    I wrote a lengthy response detailing my objections and disagreement to the section about the Pacers, but went way over the word limit. If anyone is interested in a little ranting, I posted the original comment over at IndyCornrows, where I found the link to this article.

    http://www.indycornrows.com/2010/9/27/1716039/the-atlanta-thrashers-are-acquiring-black-players-on-purpose

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  49. Puckhead
    September 29, 2010

    Harrison, I believe it is your OWN racism showing thru here…

    In choosing to emphasize the Thrashers are "inclusive" and the Pacers are "exclusive" when each necessarily requires the other in a limited roster situation, you are showing your own racial bias.

    You can't increase the amount of black players on a hockey roster without decreasing the amount of white players, and vice versa in basketball.

    Futhermore, even accepting your own conclusions, both teams have identical motivations… Atlanta blacks not accepting white players and Indiana whites not accepting black players.

    Another point you make seems to indicate it's Atlanta with the more racist ideology as you allude to the bad behaviour of the black Pacer players…. so maybe, if the Pacers are excluding players, they are excluding the gangsta culture prevalent among black players and not excluding based on skin colour as the Thrashers are.

    I'm sure there are some fans, black and white, who will never embrace a player of another race because they are racist to the core but your conclusions require a leap of logic.

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  50. Harrison
    September 29, 2010

    Puckhead, not the same thing at all. I choose not to take offense to your accusation of racism, but I feel like I should. Come on.

    I spelled out my own blackness for honesty's sake. But I feel no ill will towards white people whatsoever. Since I'm also adopted and both of my parents (as well as my wife) are white, I am confident that I am not a racist. Admittedly, I do have a bias. We all do.

    The difference that I see, and I explained and continue to explain, is that Atlanta's management are trying to break down a falsity among the black middle class that hockey is not for black people. Atlanta's fanbase is ambivalent and the Thrashers are actively trying to engage and include them. They're not getting good, white players off the roster just to appease fans who don't like them. It is not the same situation with Pacers management, who have been forced to deal with a nasty fan backlash at least partially motivated by (in my opinion) racism. I'm not saying everyone in Indiana is racist. But some are, and of those some is a second sum of vocal Pacers fans.

    That said, in each case, the point I was making is that management is forced to consider the ethnic population and racial opinions of its fanbase, not that Atlanta's fanbase is good and Indiana's is bad.

    I cut the Atlanta fanbase some slack because, for the most part, they don't know hockey. I don't cut the Pacers' fanbase the same slack because they already know basketball and they have a documented history of racism levied against their team's players.

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  51. Sean
    September 29, 2010

    How do I contact the author of this article?

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  52. Harrison
    September 29, 2010

    Hi Sean. Send me an e-mail at harrisonmooney@gmail.com.

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  53. Puckhead
    September 29, 2010

    "Biased" might have been a better choice because "racist" is a strong word, but after your last comment I don't think your bias is racial.

    Whether favouring a race for positive reasons or disfavouring a race for negative reasons…. both are racist.

    With Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, no black in America would make the assumption they can't even be a part of the hockey world if they want to.
    If you say Atlanta blacks won't see hockey as a good choice without seeing the Thrashers having black players on their roster then you're calling them racist too.

    You threw the "racist" bomb at the Pacers and, even if you were right, you didn't give evidence to back it up… I'm sure it plays a part but I'm still optimistic a black player that exemplifies all that is good about character and sportsmanship would be accepted by most Pacers fans.
    And you implied the Atlanta situation wasn't racist even though it was just as racist but for a less objectionable reason.
    "Racist" is a strong word for an understandable and not malicious situation, but a correct word.

    I'll withdraw what you took as an accusation even though I didn't mean it maliciously, only intellectually. You didn't come across as a hater.

    I think the way you distinguished between two motivations for racism, by saying one action was racist and one wasn't, was incorrect and biased.

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  54. Harrison
    September 29, 2010

    That's fair, Puckhead. Thanks for clarifying.

    I think there are some nuances to the dichotomy you're not fully taking in, but, for the most part, you're right that I'm not giving the Atlanta hockey market a whole lot of credit. And maybe there's my real bias. How can you not like hockey? What the heck is wrong with you, Atlanta?

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  55. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010

    "(As a sidenote, I personally feel this overwhelming public opinion played a huge role in Montreal's stubborn determination to keep Carey Price over Jaro Halak)"

    You are so dead wrong!!

    The Quebecois fanbase adored Halak. Nobody wants ur BC boy Price in nets over our adopted yes adopted Slovakian!

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  56. ungar
    September 30, 2010

    I understand the Habs new captain is American born Brian Gionta.
    But yes, it's been well known the fans have always wanted lots of French Canadians on their team.

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  57. Harrison
    September 30, 2010

    Yes, thankfully, Pierre Curzi made my thesis sparkle , so Gionta doesn't undercut the argument too much.

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  58. Anonymous
    October 1, 2010

    I love this article!! As an African American mom with two boys who play hockey this was a great read. I applaud Atlanta for their efforts. Anonymous

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  59. Anonymous
    October 2, 2010

    no one wants blacks in this sport they are nothing but criminals they might as well move Atlanta instead of phoenix

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  60. Anonymous
    October 2, 2010

    what a waste of time you cant market a sport to people who are all poor and on welfare cause they price of hockey will never go down sticks will always cost $200 and playing will be at the minimum $1000 that will never change Atlanta is wasting their time and ruining the sport

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  61. Anonymous
    October 2, 2010

    I don't know who those last two Anonymous idiots were, but please these types of people represent the worst of my race. Please ignore them. Besides, it takes a special kind of bigot to be a bigot anonymously.

    Very interesting and thoroughly researched article. It's worth nothing that it's easier from poor kids from cold climates (i.e., Canada) to play hockey, because it can be done outdoors. Even Gretzky learned to skate on a pond. Obviously this isn't going to happen in a place like Atlanta.

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  62. Harrison
    October 2, 2010

    Thanks, last anonymous. Yes, Anonymous E-racism of this sort is sort of the modern form of Klansmanship.

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  63. Kasim
    October 2, 2010

    I'd add yet another Atlanta pick to the trend you've noticed, in forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas. He's currently entering his sophomore year at Bowling Green. Major sleeper potential to be a late-round steal for the Thrash (although his NHL, let alone pro eta, is a ways off), and certainly key to the Falcons' success for a few years.

    I too think this is a great thing for hockey in general – I was struck by Anaheim taking two black players in Emerson Etem (hailing from SoCal, no less) and Devante Pelly-Smith with their 1st and 2nd round picks.

    I think we'll see more of these sorts of appeals on the basis of race, even on slightly smaller scales. The Manny Malhotra signing in Vancouver could help tap into a growing Indo-Canadian market (considering we get HNIC in Punjabi, there's already concerted effort in this area), and doesn't surprise me coming from an agent-turned-GM in Mike Gillis. In the same vein, the Nucks also drafted Prab Rai, a local talent who is AHL-bound after a successful WHL career.

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  64. Socket
    October 4, 2010

    Excellent piece. Best of luck to ATL this upcoming season.

    One BIG issue:
    I think you unfairly compared the Thrash situation with that of the Pacers.

    Both teams brought in skilled players. Both teams saw a serious shift in the racial make-up of their squads. Both teams made moves that, whether intentionally or coincidentally, reflect the demographic of their respective area.

    The Thrash situation, you deem it intelligent – good for the game and for their market. (Inclusionary)
    The Indiana situation, you consider it negative and racist. (Exclusionary)

    I'm curious what basis you used to make that distinction. The Pacers largely brought in whites, rather than blacks to fill roster spots. The Thrashers did the opposite.

    Is it not possibile that the Pacers were being inclusionary and diversifying their club? Likewise, is it not possible that the Thrashers have been exclusionary by picking up nearly every black player available to them? Sounds a bit like they're purposely overlooking similar white players to satisfy a marketing strategy.

    I think both scenarios made sense for the needs of the club at the time.
    Like you said, the management was creating a "local connection."

    I'd be careful implying one of the two is exclusionary or racist – opinion doesn't carry much weight in comparison to factuality.

    The imbalance may be a result of a bias in your writing.

    Then again, who's to say? I'm not you. I wouldn't assume you are a racist. . .

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  65. Harrison
    October 4, 2010

    Hi Socket. Your issue with my article has been brought up a few times before. Both situations are similar, but I view one negatively and one as positively.

    I've explained it elsewhere in the comments, but the short version is this: Indiana's fanbase has a history of racist treatment of their black players. Furthermore, Indiana management's moves were reactionary, based out of a fanbase getting upset with the players the team already had. In Atlanta's case, it's not so much reactionary as it is proactive (though one could argue much too late to be called proactive), and the Atlanta fanbase isn't clamoring for a change in racial roster makeup. They simply don't care enough to do that right now.

    Anyway, that's my opinion on the difference. You're quite right it might just be a bias. As a non-white person, I lack the luxury of seeing it the way a white person might. You also lack a similar luxury in that you can't fully see it my way.

    As a result, I am vulnerable to being disagreed with, and I'm aware of that. But I do think there's a difference.

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  66. Anonymous
    October 8, 2010

    If you are the product of a union of Black and White, and since most North American Blacks are mixed, why call yourself "non-white".
    You are likely to be more than 50% White, so why not identify with the Whites as well?

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  67. Anonymous
    October 8, 2010

    The part about going to the games being more expensive isn't always true.
    Laker game Upper sideline last row – $90.
    Kings game upper center 8th row – $20 :D
    I'm taking my cousin for the first time this year, hope he digs it!

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  68. Flyersphan
    October 9, 2010

    I really like your blog but I think you are falling into a trap with your arguments based on your own race. You say that it is ok for Atlanta to try an incorporate black players onto its hockey team in a attempt to draw in the black community, yet it is wrong for Indiana to incorporate white players onto its roster to appeal to the white community or for montreal to go after francophone players. All three are exactly the same. These teams are making race and enthnicity based decisions in an attempt to market their team to the local community. You can not say one is ok and the others are not. Atlanta is including black players into the roster at the expense of white players just as Indiana is including white players at the expense of black athletes. Montreal is including francophones at the expense of other players. These are race based marketing decisions that in my opinion are perfectly acceptable. Race will always be an issue on an individual basis. People feel a connection to those that have similar backrounds. If you and I are interviewing for the same job and we are equal, the job will probably go to the person who has the most in common with the interviewer. If that individual is black, you will probably get the job. If he is white, I will probably get the job. If we were the same color but one of us was from the home town of the interviewer or graduated from his or her college, that person would probably get the job. Is it wrong? Probably. Will it ever change? No. Human nature is human nature. The issue I have with your blog is that you are trying to justify one race based decision, most likely because it favors you race, and condemning the others. One last thing; Evander Kane is one of my favorite players. Not because his race; not because where he came from; and definitely not becasue he plays for the thrashers. Its because he bashed in Matt Cooke's face and any man who does such a just and noble deed should be praised.

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  69. John Whiting
    October 9, 2010

    Really good read. I have been thrilled with the players that Atlanta has acquired and feel they have done so because they can play. Skin color was just a bonus because you are right, there is a very large ethnic population in the Greater Atlanta area.

    The only disagreement I have is with the assessment of what the Pacers did. which you have already said is your most tenuous statement in the article. The problem is that the words racism and discrimination seemingly only apply when blacks are the ones negatively affected. What the Thrashers and Pacers are doing/have done is exactly the same. They are hiring players that can play and the fan bases can identify with. The only opposites are a team in a majority black league is hiring white players and a team in a majority white league is hiring black players.

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  70. Harrison
    October 9, 2010

    To the anonymous that asked me why, despite being half-white, I don't identify as white:

    If you look black, you're black. Half, a quarter, whatever. The moment you're visibly a minority, you really have no choice but to identify as that minority. Unless you're in denial, I guess. :-)

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  71. Anonymous
    October 14, 2010

    I'm not saying you should identify as a white person, but that you should be equally sensitive to anti-white sentiment, as anti-black sentiment.
    You said you had personal bias, clearly you have chosen to take sides. Why not be above the fray and see the truth?

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  72. McCauley
    October 16, 2010

    Also lost in the mix was the Atlanta's acquisition of Donald Brashear this summer. At the time it was a cap dump by the Rangers, and I don't believe Donald will play a game for the Thrashers, but…

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  73. Anonymous
    October 18, 2010

    Fantastic read. I'm standing up and applauding you right now.

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  74. Anonymous
    October 27, 2010

    Good and interesting article, but I'm not sure where you get the idea that Larry "Who's finishing second?" Bird is humble.

    Also, I think your point about inclusion vs. exclusion rings a little hollow, particularly with regard to the rosters of professional sports team. Every black player the Thrashers sign, every white player the Pacers sign, every Quebecois the Habs sign, and every Western Canadian the Canucks sign is a roster spot that isn't available to anybody else.

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  75. Harrison
    October 27, 2010

    Hey last anonymous:

    I'll cop to the inclusion/exclusion thing not being very well-explained. It's about intent. Obviously, there are limited roster spots on every team, but when you're getting players of a certain race because your fans don't WANT players of another race, that's exclusion. I used the Indiana Pacers as an example of this (although people vehemently disagreed with me).

    In the case of the Thrashers, they're not trying to get rid of white players. They're just taking advantage of opportunities to get black players.

    It's a very thin line and I can see where the disagreement is coming from, but I feel like Indiana's roster moves were driven by a very negative fan reaction Atlanta's weren't.

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  76. Harrison
    October 27, 2010

    Also, true say: Bird isn't humble at all. But even that was based on a dodgy comparison with racial stems: he and the rest of the Celtics were painted as humble because the Lakers were seen as showboaters. They dealt with the racial elements of that rivalry on the Bird/Magic 30 for 30 documentary.

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  77. Anonymous
    October 27, 2010

    They are not black! Everyone unfortunately has white mom.

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  78. Harrison
    October 27, 2010

    I've heard this from a few people. What a weird thought. They're not black? Then what are they? Half-black is black. In the days of segregation, do you think being half-black meant you could go into whites only establishments? Or maybe you could only go halfway in? Come on.

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  79. Qris
    October 28, 2010

    The inclusion/exclusion thing is actually very simply defined. Can a white player make it onto the Atlanta Thrashers? Of course. Despite limited roster spots, no one's actively trying to PREVENT white players from making the team.

    The same was not so with the Pacers. With the Thrashers, skill is still the most important factor when deciding who makes the team, and who's waived to the minors, sent away, etc. The Pacers didn't acquire unskilled players, but skill was not enough to keep certain players on the team.

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  80. Anonymous
    October 28, 2010

    There is a double standard in the USA. If you are Black you can be hired for being Black, If you are Black you can get into College with poor grades becasue you are Black. If you are Black you can not be fired from your job because you are Black. It is perfectly acceptable to be promoted on account of your race if you are Black. If you are White and you point out this double standard you are labeled a Racist, Whites have to be silent while they are discriminated against because of their race.

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  81. Anonymous
    October 28, 2010

    If you are a Black kid you can get given free Hockey equipment and Ice time because you are Black. Later you can get given a college scholarship to play hockey even though you are just an average player becasue you are Black. Then, you can get drafted to play pro Hockey when you really arent good enough becasue you are Black. While a more deserving White player was excluded from playing College hockey and Pro hockey, you now have a Black player who is a "Black Hockey Player". Well done America

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  82. Harrison
    October 29, 2010

    I saw today that this article has been posted on a white nationalist forum. Goody.

    More often than not the complaints of these people are the equivalent of a country club aristocrat upset that there are suddenly too many new members for him to have his own golf cart.

    I have very little time for people who claim North America is stacked AGAINST white people. You'd be better off making a case for blind people, a genuinely handicapped group to which you apparently belong.

    I look forward to many more short-sighted, one-sided comments from ethnocentric fist-shakers who are mad as Hell because the law says they have to share their golf cart.

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  83. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010

    Harrison, you of all people should not be racist, considering that you were adopted and raised by white parents. Yet you still have a chip on your shoulder towards whites. If it weren't for your white parents you most likely would not even know how to write or be able to use words like ambivalent, nuance, or dichotomy. You love to play the "oppressed minority", your white parents must have hated themselves for being white and projected this hatred onto you.

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  84. Harrison
    October 29, 2010

    Wow. That was so unintentionally hilarious my kneejerk response is to thank you for getting a chuckle out of me.

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  85. Anonymous
    October 30, 2010

    I agree that hockey has to make more of an effort to attract more non-white players and fans. This is a complex problem, and it is not just about money. But at a youth level, it is possible to do that without excluding anyone.
    However, in the NHL, there are 30 teams with 23 roster spots. That's a zero-sum world, where it is impossible to favour players of one race without disfavouring players of another race.
    If your analysis is correct, the Atlanta Thrashers roster is indeed 'stacked against white people.' Whether and to what extent that, or its opposite, is the case in other North American contexts is irrelevant; if racial discrimination is wrong, it is wrong regardless of its target. Two wrongs do not make a right.

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  86. Anonymous
    November 2, 2010

    black y'all

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  87. Anonymous
    November 28, 2010

    Why acquiring black hockey players is a wrong thing but acquiring white NBA players is not a problem?
    I would love to see a dominant black hockey team with few white guys.
    Why not?
    Go Atlanta Thrashers, I am with you.

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  88. a
    November 29, 2010

    (This is roughly the length of a minor Scandinavian epic; please feel free to ignore it.)

    So I read this when you posted it, but kept my thoughts to myself because I expected the comments to be – roughly as bad as they were. I've been meaning to come back and say something ever since.

    It's kind of terrible, isn't it? There's no concept of white privilege in the hockey community. Just – none. All these accusations of "anti-white sentiment" – it's like time travelling back to the earliest days of the internet. Probably I'm a bit spoiled because I spend most of my time in arts communities where these attitudes are less prevalent or at least less expressed, but idk – it's disheartening.

    As to the post itself – it seems clear that you're right about Atlanta actively acquiring black players, and I think it's excellent that the Thrashers are doing well (only two losses more than Van) having acquired them. It kind of lets the air out of any argument that they were acquired solely on the basis of race, or that they received preferential offers on that basis.

    And as to Canadian fans wanting Canadian players on Canadian teams – is it ethno-centrism? Maybe. Nationalism? Definitely. But I think there's also a whole mess of other anxieties tied up in it. In the three relationships you mention – Canada-USA, Franco-Anglo Canada, and Western-Eastern Canada – you're looking at one very specific situation: a smaller population with independent identity feeling powerless against larger population. This isn't the petty territorial elbow-banging that drives regional rivalries – it's old anxiety, and deep-seated. In all three cases, and probably in any case following this pattern, there's a long-standing tradition of the more powerful (ie, richer) population picking out the best players – or artists, or politicians, or businessmen – and using them 'against' the smaller population. And that? That smacks of betrayal, somewhere right down in an ancient tribal part of the brain.

    [...]

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  89. a
    November 29, 2010

    [...]

    And it hurts. It shouldn't, but it does. It feels like a double cross. Why does Centre Bell boo Danny Brière every time he sets foot on the ice? I doubt that it's solely because of his scoring prowess. It's because something in the back of the mind says: he's one of us, but he's taking their side. They already have all the power, and now they've got the hero we made, too.

    It's absurd that it matters. Hockey doesn't change the real world; Vancouver winning a cup wouldn't correct the political imbalance in the House of Commons, no matter how superior it briefly made us feel. But then I guess it's absurd that any of it matters at all – if the Canucks change their uniform every five years, if management and ownership and the rink and the roster all change, what are we cheering for? Where does the nature of the city impinge at all on the running of the franchise? Are we only spending all this time and money and emotion on the team because they're close, because it's convenient?

    Loyalty of place is so old and so much a part of human identity that it's hard to take a stand against it. These days, our sports teams are our iconic heros, our warriors and protectors. They defend our honour, prove we are good enough. We want to see ourselves in them. We don't want them to be mercenaries. Ethno-centrism, nationalism – yeah, probably. But I think it comes from that anxious, hopeful place, not from one of exclusion or of privilege.

    Which ties back into your point about Atlanta: it's great that they're building a team that kids can look up to and say: that's me, I can do that too. It's great that they're building a team that feels connected to the city, that represents and defends its character. It's great that any team, anywhere, is making progressive moves towards equal representation. I would love it if the Canucks brought some First Nations BC boys into the organization, and failing that, I'm fine with them acquiring BC boys of any racial background under the sun. It shouldn't be to the exclusion of the acquisition of better players, and it shouldn't define the team, but yeah, I think it's nice to have them there.

    ( PS. I could point out that as a little girl, I could never make an EA-NHL player who looked like me, and I never will be able to, but that – is not something that will ever change, even in the fantasy of a video game. )

    ( PPS. OH LORD sorry for the 2am word vomit)

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  90. a
    November 29, 2010

    ^ white chick with ~opinions man i kind of hate myself sometimes ^

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  91. Harrison Mooney
    November 29, 2010

    You're right, Annie, that tribalism is as old as the world. Tapping into it is a great way to sell a local sports team, but in a postmodern world, it shouldn't be so easy. That's all I'm saying.

    Effectively, it's good for business, and it's bad for progress.

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  92. Josh Tournemille
    December 19, 2010

    Harry I love you.

    Sincerely,
    Josh "the truth" Tournemille

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  93. ZC
    December 27, 2010

    Funny story…check out simmonds wiki page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Simmonds

    "When the Kings unsuccessfully pursued a trade for superstar left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, then of the Atlanta Thrashers, shortly before the that season's All-Star break, Simmonds was among the Kings' players whom Atlanta coveted in return."

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  94. Anonymous
    January 5, 2011

    "Is the whitening of the Pacers–if indeed it was intentional–worse than what Atlanta is doing? Yes, because they were specifically purging their roster of black players. The difference between the two cases is the difference between exclusion and inclusion."

    Racism is ok when we do it.

    Sorry. Great article otherwise, but the tone strikes me as pure bigotry. People want their sports stars to represent the area they are from. You are quite right that the Vancouver Canucks have a peculiar style of team. Look at Trevor Linden who is beloved.

    I applaud Indiana for purging the thug class player from their squad. If more NBA teams did so, then the sport would be much better off. As you said, they are building a team around the fundamentals of basketball. Not race. Except of course, exact same situation as Atlanta, yet you couldn't bear to admit this was so.

    I don't have any patience for minorities that wave off thuggish behaviour. It's simply not necessary. Look at Tim Duncan. You think he wouldn't fit in with the Pacers? Black people demand representation and teams that look like them. I agree with you that it is in the interest of Atlanta, but lets get it off here.

    If 50 percent of the black people in Atlanta won't cheer for a white team, how is that different from 88 percent of Indianapolis folks cheering for black people? The Pacers have received a ton more support from white folks than black folks have for Atlanta. Remember this.

    Anyways, I hope you can see my point. I think the folks in Indiana should be able to get the players they believe will be a good representative of the organisation. And I think they are very much willing to support black players, but you have to admit, black players betrayed the trust of the team and the organization. That trust will take time to earn back.

    Your comment would have been a home run if you had encouraged the Pacers to do the exact same thing that the Thrashers are doing, make the team representative of the area.

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  95. Anonymous
    January 12, 2011

    What a great and insightful article. You make valid points and back them up with meat. Very enjoyable read, thank you

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