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By Samantha Mileto April 30, 2012

Is There Still Racism in Sports?

Illustrated by LARYSSA GRECHAN


Playing hockey in the pressure-cooker city of Montreal is too often punishing for athletes. The storied history of the team to live up to; the on-going language issue; the  miserable winters; the high taxes––all reasons for many players to either not come to Montreal or to bolt the first chance they get. For P.K Subban, however, this pressure seems to be nothing more than a blip in a world that frequently dishes out much, much worse.

P.K understands pressure. He’s a Canadian hockey player, from Toronto no less, and played for Team Canada at two World Junior Championships, winning two Gold Medals. In his first season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League in 2009-10, he was called up to Montreal for the playoffs and played a pivotal role in their Cinderella run to the Conference finals. Not only that, but Subban’s confident and animated personality on and off the ice is why every Habs fan, player and member of personnel love him. Still, all that doesn’t seem to matter because the rest of the hockey world despises him. At the tender age of 22, the Canadiens defensemen’s had his fair share of criticism because of his flamboyant style.

“I think that I’m confident but I think that there’s a lot of players that are confident in this league,” Subban told The Toronto Star. “I’m not the only person that’s confident when I play the game.”

But then, what’s the problem? If he’s not the only person who’s confident in the league, then why is everyone on his case all the time?

“That’s what you have to do. Maybe the fact I’m a young guy coming in, maybe people don’t take well to that,” Subban told the Toronto Star in response to this question. “As long as my teammates and the coaching staff are happy with what I’m doing, I’m going to continue to do that.”

I don’t think the fact that he’s young is the only reason he is so regularly condemned.

Subban’s parents, Karl and Maria, hail from Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in the 1970’s. In other words, he is black, which tops any pressure of being a Montreal Canadien. Although we no longer live in the age where slavery is accepted, or where revolutionaries like Martin Luther King have to fight for the rights of black men and women, unfortunately, racism still exists today and that doesn’t exclude professional sports leagues.

On September 13, 2011, Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who is also black, was taunted by a fan in London, Ontario when they threw a banana on the ice during his shootout attempt against the Detroit Red Wings.

After the game, when asked if the incident bothered him, he said: "When you're a black man playing in a predominantly white man's sport, you've got to come to expect things like that."

In 2002, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Kevin Weeks, another black NHLer, also got a banana thrown at him by a fan.

Things like this happen again and again in European soccer. In early September 2011, fans in Bulgaria jeered Manchester United forward Ashley Young during a Euro 2012 qualifying match.

Subban went through a similar experience on New Year’s Eve in a game against the Florida Panthers. Panthers right-winger Krys Barch was reportedly heard uttering a racial slur to Subban by one of the referees. Subban said he didn’t hear it, but Barch was thrown out of the game anyways and was suspended for one game. After the game, Barch said he told Subban, "Hey, P.K., did you slip on a banana peel?" but was by no means racially motivated.

Though I think Barch was likely telling the truth, the point is that we like to think we have progressed since the Martin Luther Kings days, especially here in North America. We have, but it turns out, we still have a significant distance to go.

About the author

Samantha Mileto is a second year sudent in Cin/Com and a sports editor of the Plant.

About the illustrator

 Digital art is Laryssa Grechen's main forte, but she also enjoys using traditional mediums such as sketching with pencil/pen and colouring with markers and watercolours. She loves working with colour and exploring colour schemes. She always thrives to learn new techniques/styles and hopes to become an illustrator in some of her favourite medias (i.e. animation, video games, comics).


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    Ryan Silver

    April 30, 2012

    I agree with what you say about P.K Subban, he is most definitely an electrifying and exciting hockey player. I think that he is more confident than the majority of the players in the National Hockey League but that should not be frowned upon. Most veterans in the league wish they had the mental toughness of P.K. It is not easy to learn how to be mentally tough, it is a skill that is learnt and practiced at a very young age. I believe that, as sadly as it is, there is still racism in hockey. This has been seen on several occasions by some players and the spectators. The NHL has accomplished a lot with regards to the advancement of diminishing racism in hockey; but as mentioned in the article, there is still a long way to go.

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    ben kleinberg

    November 10, 2012

    PK Subban is one of the young, bright stars in this league and has a long, successful career ahead of him. I beleive his confident attitude on the ice comes from the hype that surrounded him even prior to entering the NHL. During his years playing on the Canadian Junior team and the Hamilton Bulldogs, he gained popularity due to his animated personality and his exciting style of play. In this professional league of toughs and brutes, I believe the young and more outgoing players are the ones to be taunted the most, especially if they enter the league with an overconfident attitude. Unfortunately, there have been some acts of racism in the league, but I believe most of the taunting directed at Subban comes from the impression he gives of overconfidence at such an early stage of his career.

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    Pietro Mosca

    December 9, 2012

    I still think there is racism in hockey, as well as many other sports. I see this first hand as I am a hockey player and I see what goes on away from the ice (locker rooms, practices, etc…) and I definitely see a distinction between coaches’ and players’ behaviour around the predominant french canadian players and the the rest of the team. For example, the Quebecois player will most often get more ice time and will usually be given a chance when caught slacking off at practice. We also see racism between players and fans, let’s take for example the case of P.K. Subban who’s received messages to quit the team because he’s black and Mario Balotelli who’s even received death threats because he’s the only African American on the international Italian Soccer team. Racism is still pretty relevant in sports and definitely affects the performance of the athletes.

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    Mark Benhaim

    November 23, 2013

    Today, P.K Subban is one of the young, bright stars of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club. I believe that coming in to the NHL expressing such an overconfident attitude towards his game, frustrated the other players in the league. When you’re in this league, the players who are taunted are the more outgoing players in the league. Although racism in sports still exists today, I believe P.K is mostly scrutinized for his confident attitude for the most part.

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    March 8, 2014

    Even though we are in 2014, more than 50 years after the speech of Martin Luther King Jr, I’m ashamed that racism still exist in many sports. Athletes have worked hard in order to show their abilities to play a sport and not to be judged by where they are from. It is extremely sad that many players are excepting acts of racism from the fans and that they considered “normal” that acts of racism happen when they are playing in a predominantly white man’s sport. I still believe that there is only a little percentage of people that are extremely radicals and they don’t understand the whole concept of sport which is all about the concept of physical performance and competitive activity and not about the color of your skin.

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    April 8, 2015

    I believe that P.K Subban is one of the most electrifying players in the NHL. He is an amazing player and an outgoing player on and off the ice. When it comes to the issue of racism in sports I believe that it will never fully be abolished. This is due to the fact that fans are always looking for flaws in the players. For racist fans the easiest thing to target is a players skin colour. For white players, the fans will find other flaws. Unfortunately this is a part of the game and unless the fans change, there will always be racism in sports.

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