When you picture a hockey player, you probably envision a pasty Canadian guy … potentially with a killer mustache and/or a flowing mullet. It’s no doubt that the game is far behind other North American sports when it comes to diversity, although I think the climate is a lot friendlier than it was it the sport’s uglier days.
Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News spotlights the story of agent Eustace King, a former college hockey goalie turned player agent who might be the only black agent in the NHL.
But his future was not between the pipes. Instead, King went into business, eventually finding his way to the NHL headquarters where he focused on corporate sponsorships for the league, while also contributing to the NHL’s diversity program. Now as an agent, he’s doing his best to help his clients achieve their dreams – and the fact he is able to help some of the elite young black players in the game is icing on the cake.
“It’s not traditional for black athletes to play hockey,” King said. “But there has been a big outreach for blacks to play hockey.”
King, whose other clients include recent Anaheim Ducks draftees Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly, as well as white NHLers such as Tyler Ennis and T.J. Oshie, still gives credit to the man who started it all for black hockey players, Willie O’Ree.
“For me to even be where I am as a business executive,” King noted, “it goes back to him.”
It’s a great story, but one interesting fact that stuck out was that the Atlanta Thrashers might be leading the way when it comes to minority hockey players.
Atlanta will be a particularly interesting market in the near future. Whether or not by design, the Thrashers now employ Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Akim Aliu in a city boasting a population that was more than 60 percent African-American as per the most recent U.S. Census.
“(New GM) Rick Dudley is a smart man,” King postulated. “He wants to put a good hockey team on the ice, but he also knows the demographics of his marketplace.”
Dudley, in fact, added Byfuglien and Aliu in one trade this summer. I’m not sure race was a big determining factor for the acquisitions – which is really a good thing, actually – since Aliu and Byfuglien fit Dudley’s vision of physically impressive players as much as anything else. Still, it’s interesting that all three players have been added to the team in the last two years.
The NHL still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity. After all, having a black agent wouldn’t be a story if it was a common thing, right? Either way, it’s a nice thing to read about and here’s hoping that the sport expands to plenty of non-traditional markets going forward.