Empowering young Black aspirants to the NHL

By Anthony Joseph

As the NHL’s Rogers All-Star weekend takes center stage in Toronto, it is essential to reflect on the progress and conversations that have shaped the League’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Mark Fraser

One voice that has been instrumental in driving these discussions is Mark Fraser, the Director of Culture & Inclusion for the Toronto Maple Leafs and a former NHL player with stints at the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, and Edmonton Oilers. His insights and efforts to educate the hockey community have paved the way for a more inclusive future for the sport.

Fraser is now leading the charge in celebrating the history of Black hockey with a pop-up location, in collaboration with a prominent Black-owned business and Mitchell and Ness. This partnership aims to highlight Black excellence not only in the game of hockey but also within the Maple Leaf’s organization through its alumni. This representation and celebration of Black excellence are crucial steps toward making all young Black players feel like they belong in the world of hockey.

Mark Fraser

Fraser’s experiences as a player in the NHL shed light on the challenges faced by Black athletes in the sport. While he acknowledges the wonderful relationships and opportunities that came with his career, he also emphasizes the invisible barriers and discomfort that racialized players often endure. In a league

with a lack of diversity, it can be isolating for players to address their unique experiences and perspectives. This isolation underscores the importance of creating a more inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and represented.

In his current role as Director of Culture & Inclusion, Fraser is a source of inspiration and support for young Black players looking to make their mark in the world of hockey. He recognizes the significance of representation and the impact it has on the next generation. As a kid, he idolized players like Jarome Iginla because he could see himself in them. Fraser strives to provide that same sense of belonging and inspiration for aspiring young players.

His commitment to the future generation of hockey players goes beyond words. He actively engages in initiatives like the retail capsule collaboration, which allows young Black players to see

themselves represented in the Maple Leaf’s brand. By planting seeds of representation and empowerment, Fraser encourages young talent to pursue their dreams in the sport.

The collaboration with Throne Barbershop and the celebration of Black History Month in Canada further emphasize the importance of recognizing Black history in hockey. While Black history in the United States is well-documented, Fraser reminds us that Canada also has a rich history of Black hockey players dating back to the late 1800s. This legacy is something to be celebrated and shared with pride.

One significant milestone in recognizing Black history in hockey is the retirement of Willie O’ Ree’s Number 22 by the Boston Bruins which will take place on the 28 th of February and his induction into the Hall of Fame. Fraser underscores that this achievement is not just for Black players but for the entire hockey community. It serves as a symbol of progress and a testament to the fact that Black players have been an integral part of the sport’s history for over a century.

However, Fraser also acknowledges that while these symbolic gestures are important, they must be accompanied by systemic changes. It’s not enough to retire a player’s number or raise it to the rafters; real progress requires addressing the underlying issues of diversity and inclusion within the sport.

One of the primary challenges in the NHL is the lack of representation in senior management and coaching positions. When players don’t see people who look like them in these roles, they may feel hesitant to be themselves. This fear of being perceived as different can hinder their ability to contribute fully to the team and the sport. Fraser emphasizes the importance of creating an environment where everyone can be their authentic selves without fear of judgment or exclusion.

Fraser’s experiences in New Jersey, where he had the camaraderie of fellow Black players, and the supportive atmosphere of the staff, are a testament to the positive impact of diversity.

In an industry dominated by the old guard, change may be met with resistance, but it is essential for the future of hockey. Progress should not be seen as a threat but as a step toward a more inclusive and fair sport.

Fraser’s s insights and dedication to improving diversity and inclusion in the NHL are a source of hope and inspiration for young Black players and the hockey community as a whole. His work and collaborations, such as the retail capsule and the celebration of Black history, are tangible steps towards greater representation.

As the League continues to evolve, it is crucial to recognize that diversity is not a problem to solve but an asset to embrace. The future of hockey is brighter when everyone is given an equal opportunity to shine, regardless of their background or ethnicity. It is a reminder that hockey is a sport for