How Many Black Hockey Players Are There In The Nhl? [Ultimate Guide!]

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You might be familiar with the National Hockey League, the premier sports league in North America. The NHL has teams in many cities, including New York, Toronto, and Boston.

But did you know that the NHL was originally founded as the “National Hockey League” in 1890? The acronym became the “NHL” in 1923.

Since its inception, the NHL has maintained a color line throughout its roster. This is despite the fact that players of color have always made up a large portion of the league. In 2019, Forbes valued the NHL at $14 billion.

To determine how many black hockey players are in the NHL, we turned to Daryl Moreau, a data scientist at StatsBomb who works in the area of race and hockey.

Moreau said that the best place to start is with the very basics — how many black hockey players were actually playing during the 2019-20 NHL season?

When we looked at the NHL roster, we saw that there were 467 players on the active roster. Of those, four were black. (We’ll get to what constitutes “active” and “inactive” later.)

That’s 0.9% of the total, which isn’t exactly groundbreaking. But it’s also not a terrible representation of the black community in hockey, considering that 0.9% of the population is African American. (The U.S. Census Bureau puts the number of black Americans at 50.8 million.)

We wanted to find out how many black hockey players were in the NHL throughout history, so we turned to Daryl Moreau’s database at StatsBomb and ran some numbers. (In cases where there was no answer in the database, we used the estimated percentage of black Americans in the population at the time.) The results are shown in the table below. (The database is searchable by position, team, and date, so you can see how many black players were on each team, when and where they played, and for how many seasons.)

As you can see, throughout its history, the NHL has never been a completely integrated league. (The one exception is the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were the first team to integrate their roster, putting Frank Selby on the ice in 1934.)

The only way to accurately determine how many black players are in the NHL is to count them. In 2019, there were four. In 1920, there were 11. In 1900, there were 25. In 1890, there were 34. The list goes on. (The information about the Toronto Maple Leafs is from Wikipedia.)

There are also no stats to show how many black coaches and executives have worked in the NHL. However, we know that there’s at least one: George Preston Marshall. Marshall is credited with inventing the tackle box, which was later adopted by the NFL. He was also the first black player to sign a professional contract with a major sports league. He played 11 seasons for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Braves. In 1923, he became the head coach of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. He compiled a record of 40-26-8 in five seasons with the team. Today, the Chiefs name a stadium after him.

The lack of prominent black role models in hockey is something that Moreau calls “a glaring issue in the sport.” He says that there needs to be more diversity not just in the player pool but also in the front office. (As an aside, did you know that there are four different groups of people who call themselves hockey fans? There’s the “true hockey fans” who attend games regularly and follow the sport closely. Then there are the “hockey enthusiasts” who may watch games but aren’t as involved with the sport as others. (The people who attend sporting events in general, “fans,” and those who follow the sport closely but don’t attend games — “true fans” — make up the majority of the audience. And then there are the “nontraditional” fans, which includes people who are more into social media than they are into watching hockey live.)

The fact that there are so few black players in the NHL doesn’t mean that they aren’t successful. Two of the four players on the 2019-20 roster were selected for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game. Cole Caufield was voted the Best Young Player, and Jakub Vrana was chosen as one of the Top Defensemen.

But beyond the statistics, it’s important to consider why there aren’t more black players in the NHL. Racism still exists in American society, and it’s a sentiment that Moreau says prevails in hockey as well. He says that in the 1980s and 90s, he would field calls from parents who wanted to play hockey but didn’t want their children to play against black kids. (The black players had formed teams in the neighborhood and were playing pickup games with the kids. )

“I remember when I was in high school, we had a team of Native Americans on the varsity team,” Moreau said. “There were also a lot of Hispanic and Latino players on the team. So it wasn’t just black kids.”

He continued:

“I think this might be attributed to [racism in American society]. I don’t think the coaches or the front office executives make these decisions based on skin color. I think that there is some inherent bias that exists within the sport.”

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