Love him or hate him, Evander Kane has become one of hockey’s faces in the battle to combat racism in the sport.
Even though Kane and the San Jose Sharks haven’t played in five months, the Hockey Diversity Alliance founder has consistently been at the forefront of spurring change in the NHL this summer.
Case in point this morning, when he and fellow HDA founder Matt Dumba spoke to about a hundred NHL players who were unsure how to react to the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision yesterday to not play their playoff game to protest Jacob Blake’s shooting. The NBA proceeded to postpone their entire slate of Wednesday games. The WNBA, MLB, and MLS players followed suit by postponing games. Conspicuously, of these five major North American professional sports leagues, the NHL was the only league that played on in full last night.
More than 100 players in the bubble had a call with Evander Kane and Matt Dumba this afternoon.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) August 27, 2020
After talking to Kane and Dumba, NHL players decided to not play today’s and tomorrow’s games as scheduled.
Powerful stuff from Ryan Reaves here pic.twitter.com/iXBcDMkY6H
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) August 27, 2020
This picture, of the four remaining Western Conference teams standing together in protest, may prove to be a seminal image in hockey history:
If players wanted to show solidarity, this is the way to do it. The visual is powerful. pic.twitter.com/n6ZuZSd0tY
— Hemal Jhaveri (@hemjhaveri) August 27, 2020
And while Kane and Dumba weren’t there, there’s no doubt that they were there in spirit, along with other HDA members Akim Aliu, Joel Ward, Chris Stewart, Trevor Daley, Anthony Duclair, and Wayne Simmonds. Nazem Kadri is the only member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance still in the playoffs.
“Evander has been way out in front of this,” ex-San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said. “He’s been discussing this for years, and I know he’s really proud of what’s going on today with the NHL.”
This made me wonder: How did Kane arrive at this hopefully game-changing moment?
I went back to trace, best I could, Kane’s recorded history of speaking out against racism, from his formative years in Vancouver to his arrival in the Bay Area.
“They were screaming terrible, terrible names at a 10-year-old kid,” Kane said of his youth hockey days in Vancouver.
At one game, as the 10-year-old sat in the penalty box, the other team’s parents yelled, “We should chop your fucking legs off. Fuck you. Somebody’s going to knock your head off.”
Kane scored the tournament-winning goal, skated to center ice, and bowed to the crowd.
Seven years later, Kane was skating for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, on the cusp of the NHL Draft.
On February 21, 2009, the Kootenay Ice’s James Martin directed a racial comment toward the Saskatoon Blades’ Josh Nicholls, who is Filipino-Canadian. The WHL suspended Martin for three games.
The 17-year-old Kane reacted: “To be honest, I haven’t had anything said to me in the WHL. I’d also like to think that we all understand that going after a guy’s race isn’t acceptable.”
A couple months later, on the eve of the 2009 NHL Draft, he observed, “Not being white is a challenge in itself. Much as people don’t want to believe that, I think it is.”
The Atlanta Thrashers selected Kane with the fourth-overall pick. At the time, a black player had never been drafted higher by an NHL team.
During the 2010-11 season, the Thrashers featured five of the league’s 19 black players: Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Anthony Stewart, Johnny Oduya, and Nigel Dawes.
Outsiders wondered if the team was trying to cater to Atlanta’s large African-American population. According to the 2000 Census, blacks accounted for 31 percent of the city’s metropolitan area, more than any other city in the US top 30.
“I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but it’s good,” the 19-year-old Kane offered. “To play with players who look like me, it shows how far the game has come.” (Newberry, Paul. “Thrashers score with diversity.” Associated Press. February 4, 2011.)
The game hadn’t come that far though.
During the 2011-12 season, the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets.
It did not prove to be an easy transition for Kane, whether because of his own immaturity or race or both.
But it must have been a bit of a culture shock, going from Atlanta, 31 percent black, to Winnipeg, 3.9 percent black.
As far as we know, race was never an explicit issue during Kane’s four years with the Jets. But was it always lurking?
Kane, when talking about the controversial “money phone” picture from December 2012, made his thoughts clear on the subject years later.
“It’s something that’s been done before by many athletes. Because I was in Winnipeg, in a Canadian city, it obviously bothered some people. Wes Welker is at the Kentucky Derby throwing around money, and he’s considered a great guy. Fun and charismatic,” Kane said in 2018. “If you don’t acknowledge (the racial element) to some degree, you’re living in the shadows. It’s an older mentality and something that (hockey) hasn’t caught up to.”
The Undefeated elaborated more about his time in Winnipeg in 2019: “Kane felt he was dodging accusations at almost every turn. He says people accused him of stealing an elderly woman’s dog, swiping $500 worth of groceries from an area Safeway, and regularly dining and dashing at Winnipeg restaurants.”
“There are lots of guys I could point to that everybody knows publicly who have done a lot worse or been accused of doing a lot worse things than I have,” Kane told The Hockey News in 2015. “But they don’t look like me. They don’t look like me.”
Kane might have been referring to teammate Ondrej Pavelec, who was convicted of a DUI in 2012, and Jets legend Thomas Steen, who was charged with domestic violence in 2014.
In 2013, Kane also commented on the verbal abuse that Surrey-born soccer player Sydney Leroux Dwyer had received from Canadians for choosing to play for the United States in international competition.
@sydneyleroux and people are still in denial racism doesn't exist. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time this happens.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) June 4, 2013
All said, some of the immaturity was real too. Here’s a picture of Kane from 2013 — remember, he was just 22 — that the now 29-year-old surely wouldn’t take in 2020 for all the money phones in the world.
That same year, Kane tweeted a homophobic slur at Chris Bosh. He defended the tweet at first, before speaking with You Can Play’s Patrick Burke.
“Evander knew that he had made a mistake,” Burke told Global News. “He didn’t understand why it was offensive. He thought it was just a joke and I talked him through it.”
Kane apologized and deleted the inflammatory tweet.
For what it’s worth, in 2015, the same year that Kane was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, Maclean’s anointed Winnipeg as Canada’s most racist city.
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