Things are changing every single day in the world we live in. Less than a decade ago no one would have thought that current events in the NHL would be possible.
For instance, P.K Subban, Norris Trophy candidate and the talented defenseman could make history by being the first player of African descent to win the major NHL award, but to have another player of African descent vying for a prestigious honor in the same year is an unprecedented milestone.
Ironically, American born 18 year old defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winter Hawks was announced as the number one player available by the NHL central scouting bureau. Another defenseman, Darnell Nurse, the nephew, of NFL Quarterback, Donavan McNabb is expected to be a top 15 selection in the draft.
Malcolm Subban (PK’s brother) was the number one pick of the Boston Bruins last year and the Winnipeg jets forward Evander Kane was drafted number four in 2009. Never have so many black players elevated to the top of the draft in multiple years.
The movie “42” has been well received in the United States and tells the story of African American baseball Icon Jackie Robinson’s experiences with racial prejudice and bias despite his obvious ability. When my father was drafted into WWII in the 1940’s black soldiers followed Robinson’s every exploit.
Every hit, home run, stolen base and strike out was followed as if it were their own. Robinson career was very personal to a lot of Americans. Millions of African Americans who followed baseball were aware of a ‘biased perceptions’ regarding Robinson and followed and supported him in every way including having entire families sitting around the radio with baited breath listening for every mention of Robinson’s name.
Subban despite his obvious talent and charisma has experienced his share of “biased’ perceptions this past season. While more subtle than Willie O’Ree being locked in a closet for his safety or Conn Smythe saying he would pay anyone $10,000 if they could make Herb Carnegie ”white” Subban still has experienced his moments.
First as a junior he was selected in the second round (43rd overall) despite superior talent over several who were selected before him. Patrick Kane was one of the few exceptions. But could every scout be that wrong? James van Reimsdyk, Kyle Turris, Thomas Hickey, Karl Alzer, Sam Gagner, Angelo Esposito, and 35 others were selected prior to Subban and many have not played in a single NHL contest as of yet, three years later.
A season ago Krys Barch made what some considered a racial comment at the end of the first period of the Panthers’ 3-2 win on New Year’s Eve 2011 and was ejected. The Miami Herald reported that a linesman said he heard Barch direct the slur toward Subban. Then NHL vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell says Barch ”has admitted making the remark, but denies that the comment was racially motivated.” Campbell says Barch must be held accountable for the comment, which was ”offensive and unacceptable.
Hockey Night In Canada icon Don Cherry consistently criticizes Subban on air despite the fact that Subban’s charisma, break neck rushing style and brashness some would say resemble a certain defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario that ‘Grapes’ simply loves. Cherry admits to having watched Subban when he was a Bantam and he has been a standout player and leader as a youngster playing on the same youth team as Steven Stamkos. PK Subban’s experiences although challenging are not unlike any player who is trying to overcome obstacles to reach their dream.
Youth players including Hall of Famers in their early years can all point to problems with coaches, jealousy, criticism and other factors that were impediments to them making Even though he held out for a better contract at the start of the season and without a doubt is one of the most talented players on the Canadians. Montreal refused to sign Subban to a long term deal and publicly commented that they wanted to observe him further because of his antics and supposed attitude.
Of course, that proved to be a mistake since Subban’s performance has made him a finalist for the Norris and an emerging superstar in the NHL which translates into a lucrative long term deal or a trade to another NHL team as a restricted free agent (RFA). Sports Illustrated even has Subban listed as number one in the Top Ten most hated players in the NHL.
The fan base seems to be split between either likings the young defenseman or hating him. Even so Subban has shown another side to his personality by teaming up with Hyundai Canada to assist youth hockey players with equipment and other expenses.
When P.K was first mentioned as a Norris candidate the blogosphere went viril with criticism and negative comments. There is even a P.K Subban sucks forum on the web. Nevertheless the internet site YouTube has helped Subban achieve stratospheric exposure with several videos including “How Ya Like Me Now a video with almost 400,000 views. Subban has several other videos on YouTube including a stint as a stand in weather man on a Montreal news channel and an altercation with Alex Ovechkin which when added all up totals well over one million views.
If YouTube searches were part of the criteria for Norris voting Subban would be the hands down winner outdistancing Erik Karrlson, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber combined. Although negative comments continued during the season more and more NHL elite got on the Subban bandwagon.
Hall of famer Ray Bourque commented that he would love to see him on the Boston Bruins. “I hope he keeps up his antics” Bourque said. As a five time winner of the ‘best defenseman in the NHL award’ (Norris) Raymond Bourque may know just a little bit about what it takes to be the best and he may see a bit of it in the 23 year old Subban.
With the emergence of Seth Jones as a first ever African American potential number one draft pick and Rapper turned professional sports team owner/partner and player agent.
Things could be different in the NBA, NHL and other major league sports in the near future. Jay-Z could be competitive in an environment filled with new young millionaires who love the rap community and all of the glitter associated with it.
Most don’t remember that in the 1960’s and early 70’s Derek Sanderson and Bobby Orr attracted a new generation to the game with longer hair, sideburns and player agents that provided them multimillion dollar contracts and a new marketing flair promoting the game. It has been over 40 years and the NHL is poised and ready for another generational change.
Jay-Z was recently accused of influencing a pro player which breaks the current rules governing NFL negotiation and comes conveniently when he is strongly considering becoming a licensed player agent himself with Roc Nation.
Bobby Orr, the Bruin icon, hockey hall of famer, and hockey ambassador said in a recent interview that “the game is for everyone, not just a few” and the NHL brain trust should agree if they want to grow the sport and manage the inevitable change.
Whatever the outcome things are changing in sports and they never will be the same.