Hockey? It's still searching for a black hero.
A diversity-minded National Hockey League waits with open arms. It wants a player with an aura like Woods. It wants to introduce more blacks to the game and more minorities in general. Yet the track record for blacks in professional hockey -- as far as numbers go -- is far from overwhelming. Currently, there are 41 black players in the six principal hockey leagues. That covers 106 franchises.
"A kid is going to emerge who is the Michael Jordan of hockey," said Bryant McBride, head of the NHL diversity task force. "Hockey is the most diverse of the four major sports. Nobody else can boast that it has players from 17 different countries.
"But there hasn't been that one black star who is amazing. It will happen."
The Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League have two of those 41 black players. Dale Craigwell and Ian Boyce faced obstacles because of their skin color. They stayed the course. But many others didn't.
"A lot of my friends who were black played but dropped out because they couldn't handle the racism and the prejudice," Craigwell said. "A lot of people dropped out because people told them it's a white man's game. But I loved the game, and I wasn't dropping out for anything."
Boyce said: "I think we've broken the barrier and shown we can play hockey. Anybody is capable of playing hockey."
The first black in the NHL was the Boston Bruins' Willie O'Ree in 1958. After O'Ree, the league went years without black representation. Mike Marson of Washington followed O'Ree in 1974.
If there is a black hockey hero now, goaltender Grant Fuhr of the St. Louis Blues is as good a candidate as any. McBride, though, isn't so sure Fuhr fits the role.
"Grant is very light-skinned. Behind that mask, many people didn't know that [he is black]," McBride said.
The NHL is doing its best to make the black community aware. And more involved. In conjunction with USA Hockey, the NHL lends its support to youth and junior programs from Albany, N.Y., to San Francisco. A program called "Ice Hockey in Harlem" began about 10 years ago, and its goal is to take youths off the street and teach them hockey. The NHL contributes equipment so youths only pay a small fee, or, in some cases, nothing at all.
"The biggest hurdles with hockey are cost and ice time," McBride said. "We are trying to help break down both of those hurdles."
Kansas City lacks in black-youth hockey participation. Tom Prendergast, president of the Kansas City Junior Blades Amateur Hockey Association, said he knows of only one black youth that participates in the program. There are 500 youths ages 6 to 15 in the Junior Blades' organization. He said cost may keep some from playing. "Hockey parents spend about $400 per season," Prendergast said.
The growth of roller hockey and in-line skating may help here and nationwide.
"Getting more people to skate is great," said Akil Adams, a defenseman for Port Huron (Mich.) of the Colonial Hockey
League, "but we need to get more blacks in the sport, and that needs to be changed by people like me."
Opponent: Kentucky Thoroughblades
Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)
Outlook: It's Round 2 of the weekend series. The 'Blades feature a solid veteran in goal, Jamie Ram, on loan from the New York Rangers. He had an 18-16-3 record for division-leading Binghamton last season.
Pub Date: 10/20/96