Former NHLer, hockey dad share realities of playing hockey while black

According to Ottawa's Mark Fraser, your opinion about whether there's a diversity problem in hockey is likely tied to the colour of your skin.

The former NHLer appeared on All In A Day Friday, describing his experiences with racism and bigotry in light of the controversies surrounding NHL coach Bill Peters.

Peters recently resigned as head coach of the Calgary Flames in the aftermath of revelations of racism and physical abuse against players.

Fraser played for the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, and continues to play professionally in Europe for the Schwenningen Wild Wings of the German elite league.

He said the allegations against Peters are a reminder that racism remains in a sport that lacks the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian basketball or soccer.

Also on the show, was Godlove Ngwafusi, whose son Nick experienced both overt and veiled racism throughout his minor hockey career.

Here are some of their stories. Their words have been edited for length and clarity.

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Mark Fraser on signing in Slovakia

Towards the end of November of last season, I ended up getting a contract to go play in Slovakia. But I actually found out a month or two months after being there — by some of the captains on the team — that prior to my signing, the general manager actually sat them down and had asked them how they felt [about] signing a black player.

And I was quite shocked to realize that in my 13-year pro career, having played hundreds of NHL games, that I wasn't being brought in clearly just based on my resumé.

The fact that my skin colour actually had the potential of preventing my employment in an area where my resumé speaks for itself — that was a new one for me.

It makes you question how many other times, perhaps, were you being judged on things that were out of your control, as opposed to your actual on-ice abilities.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Fraser on minor hockey

I was in the penalty box — I was probably about 14 or so years old, playing for the Gloucester Rangers — and I just remember being berated by a couple of fans or parents from the other team.

The comment I remember them yelling was telling me to "go back to the bush."

I had no idea, really, what they may have been referring to at the time. [But my] father, who's a Jamaican immigrant, and some of the other parents on my team — they had caught wind of what was being said and yelled toward me. It was their reaction that really made me understand the significance.

Mark Fraser/Twitter
Mark Fraser/Twitter

Godlove Ngwafusi on an apology

I remember a specific incident when a family staying at a different hotel followed me to mine, just to apologize for stuff that happened on the ice coming from the parents on the opposing side.

So I was very appreciative of that moment and I really have not forgotten it.

It's going to take recognition [by the hockey establishment] that the problem exists. Look at it squarely, and try to resolve it instead of denying the existence of it.