Every once in a while I’m forcefully reminded that while we’ve made great strides when it comes to race relations here in North America…we still have a ways to go.
Recently there were questions asked about the fact that the Atlanta Thrashers have at least 4 Black players on their starting team…with the potential for up to six.
What I was hearing…and reading…was that the Thrashers were exploiting having these players in a city where the majority of the population is African-American…by featuring them in ads in local Black newspapers and on radio stations featuring “urban” music…along with digital billboards which feature some of those players.
So let me get this straight….in a city which is more than half African-American…most of whom have never shown any interest in hockey…a team which is struggling to stay in existence is “exploiting” the players it has who happen to be Black….by using them to try and increase the appeal of hockey to a market previously not approached. WHAT CRAP!
If these players were sub-par…not really solid NHLers…and no doubt there only because of their skin color..then the point would be well taken. But that just isn’t the point.
Evander Kane was a first round draft pick who went fourth overall….Dustin Byfuglien was considered to be THE CATCH…as the Chicago Blackhawks had to purge their Stanley Cup winning lineup for salary cap reasons…Johnny Oduya came over in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade..and Anthony Stewart was also a first round draft pick who’s finally starting to show why.
I don’t blame Thrashers General Manager Rick Dudley for being insulted when approached on the subject.
As a respected hockey man…Dudley knows that at the end of the day nothing succeeds like success. He has to put a winning team on the ice in Coca-Colaville…and these players can help him do that.
Their being Black is a fortunate bonus…considering where they’re playing…but if they didn’t measure up…they wouldn’t be there.
As far as marketing goes…the NHL has a diversity programme designed to reach out to youngsters of all walks of life…in order to get them to consider playing hockey. Lead by hockey’s Jackie Robinson….Willie O’Ree…the idea is to make hockey “everyone’s game”.
Given all these factors…the players being NHL-quality…the league striving to expand its audience…and Atlanta striving to remain a viable NHL franchise in a city with a strong African-American presence…the Thrashers marketing department would have to be manned by idiots not to put together a campaign featuring these players. This is what marketing departments are supposed to do…play up the team or companies assets in order to make them appealing to the public.
In fact…I would cast a seriously wondering eye on the Thrashers marketing people if they DIDN’T but this kind of campaign together…considering the assets at their disposal.
Exploitation? BALONEY! The Thrashers are trying to survive…and to do that they have to win. They have to put the best team they can on the ice….and there’s no way an experiencedhockey man like Rick Dudley would waste his time with anything else.
He knows these players can help his team…and I believe him when he says race never entered his mind in getting them for his club.
Using them in marketing campaigns? If the Boston Bruins had a kid with an Irish-sounding surname do you think they’d get his face out there in the Beantown media?
Montrealers are still pining for that Quebecois superstar to continue the legacy of Richard….Beliveau and Lafleur.
Marketing departments pray for the chance to get campaigns centered around faces they think would appeal to their market…and the Thrashers folks have been lucky enough to get that.
But to think that it’s by some kind of design is foolish…and take a look at…and listen to…the ads before claiming the players are being “exploited”.
Becoming the face of a sports franchise…with the money and fame that entails. We should all be lucky enough to be that “exploited”.
About the Author: Lifelong Montreal Canadiens fan...even though I was born and raised in Toronto. I wish the NHL had a balanced schedule because I would love to see more western teams come to Toronto. Would love to see Quebec City return to the NHL.