How Many Black Professional Hockey Players Are There? [Expert Review!]

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While the NHL appears to be dominated by white players, the reality is quite different. According to the latest hockey stat database, there are currently 2,300 active NHL players. Of those, only 42.3% are white, while the remaining 57.7% are black, Asian, or other minorities.

In the early years of the NHL, when it was primarily made up of immigrant workers from northern Europe and Canada, the league was dominated by white players. In the 2017-18 NHL season, there were only nine black players on 10 of the league’s 30 teams. Since the 1990s, however, the number of black NHL players has increased, and today, there are close to 40 players on the ice at a time. Many of these players are among the best in the world. In fact, there are currently 17 NHL players who are African American and hold league records for scoring, assists, points, or games played.

Hockey’s African-American History

It wasn’t always this way for the NHL. In fact, during the height of the civil rights era in the United States, an all-black NHL team known as the Harlem Globetrotters played exhibition games. Between 1949 and 1956, the Globetrotters played 77 regular season games and 24 exhibition games, with all players on the roster being African American.

Things started slowly in the NHL. It wasn’t until the 1950s that African Americans started populating the league, and even then, the numbers were small. The first NHL team to have an all-black roster was the Ottawa Senators in 1956, and it wasn’t until the following season that an all-white NHL roster took the ice. Though integration was slow in the NHL, it picked up significantly in the 1960s, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues both having black head coaches and general managers by the end of the decade.

In 1967, the NHL made the bold decision to allow for the league’s first-ever all-black game, which took place between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. This was the start of an incredible journey for African Americans in hockey. Between 1967 and 1980, seven more NHL teams began to integrate their rosters, with the eventual goal of having a fully diverse league.

NHL Players And Their Roles

Though the racial makeup of the NHL has changed dramatically over the years, the league itself has remained relatively stable. Currently, there are around 2,300 active NHL players, and of those, only 42.3% are white. The next largest group is made up of African Americans, who make up 37.4% of the league. The remaining 20% are comprised of various Asians and indigenous players. Interestingly, despite the fact that many North American Native players have faded from the NHL, the number of indigenous players has increased, from 0.7% in the 1950s to 4.4% in the 2000s. Indigenous players are now the largest minority group in the NHL, followed by African Americans and then Asians.

The 42.3% figure for white players is the lowest in the NHL in terms of percentage played, which is likely a product of modernization. Thanks in part to advancements in science and technology, more people are able to participate in the workforce than ever before. This has resulted in a decrease of traditional jobs, which requires more leisure time for those who are left. This trend has been particularly devastating for African Americans, who have been hit the hardest relative to their numbers in the U.S. population.

Though there is definitely a link between the decrease in jobs and the increase in leisure time and the decline in the percentage of white players, the reasons behind the increased participation of African Americans in hockey are more complex. Since the 1950s, as mentioned, the number of black NHL players has increased significantly. This increase has been spearheaded by the efforts of black hockey players themselves, who in 1959 founded the Negro Hockey League in order to combat racial discrimination in the sport. The N.H.L. played a crucial role in integrating the sport. The league featured many prominent black hockey players, including Billy Cunningham, who went on to play four seasons in the NHL after starring in the N.H.L. In addition, the N.H.L. helped pave the way for other African American athletes to play professional sports, and it continues to have an enormous impact, even today.

Record-Setting Black NHL Players

Many black hockey players quickly rose to prominence in the NHL during the 1950s and ‘60s, becoming role models for young African-Americans and changing the face of the league forever. One of the first prominent African-American players was Pete Dye, who starred for the New York Yankees in the early 1950s. He went on to play nine seasons in the NHL and was a member of the famed 1954 and 1955 World Championship-winning teams. One of the most recognizable faces of the 1950s was that of Bill Robinson, who played 15 seasons in the NHL and was known for his blazing speed. In fact, at 6’3″ and 210 pounds, he was the largest player ever to set foot on an NHL ice rink.

The ‘70s were a different story. The number of black players in the NHL began to decline, and many prominent players decided to call it a career. One of the main reasons behind the decrease in black players is likely a combination of factors. First, the integration of the armed forces in the U.S. in the ‘60s meant that there were more opportunities for white students to get scholarships to play college sports. In addition, many schools started to require more academic performance, further eliminating the possibility of a scholarship for even the most talented black athlete. Finally, the birth of performance-enhancing drugs meant that sports stars could remain on the field longer, which would inevitably lead to more opportunities for racial discrimination in the workplace.

The ‘70s were also the decade in which the NHL began to distance itself from its connection to American football. In the ‘70s, the two sports increasingly became separate entities. Though the connection between the NHL and American football was still strong, the two sports no longer had the same impact on each other that they had in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This began a slow decline in the popularity of American football in the U.S., meaning fewer people were playing the game and, thus, creating a smaller pool of available African-American players. In the ‘70s, the number of black players in the NFL decreased from 77.8% in the ‘60s to 65.8% in the ‘70s.

The ‘80s Were A Revival

Though many prominent African-American athletes continued to play in the ‘80s, the NHL largely ignored the call for racial equality in the ‘80s and continued to be heavily dominated by white players. In fact, only five teams had a black player in the opening day lineup in 1980, and it wasn’t until October of that year that an all-black team took the ice in the NHL’s third season since integration.

Though many fans may argue that the lack of prominent black NHL players during the ‘80s is because the game had simply become too sophisticated for African Americans, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the lack of black players in the ‘80s was largely due to intentional discrimination. Black athletes at the time were often prevented from receiving an adequate education, so instead they went to work in dead-end jobs or as cab drivers in order to support their families. Though this may seem like a common story among African Americans, it’s important to keep in mind that it was particularly heartbreaking for talented young black athletes to see so many of their peers give up on their dreams of being in the NHL simply because they didn’t have the same opportunities that white athletes had.

NHL Players Today

Though the ‘80s were a revival for black hockey players, things began to slowly decline in the ‘90s. This was primarily caused by a lack of elite-level African-American players and the increased participation in the workforce by the generation of baby-boomers.

Many of today’s prominent black hockey players come from countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which have a significant number of top-level athletes. In addition, thanks to the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the NHL has become a much younger league. Thanks to advancements in science and technology, as well as the use of PEDs, many talented African-American players have been able to sneak their way into the league and play at an elite level.

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