Media channels consistently name drop prominent athletes from diverse backgrounds as a testament to the “post-racial state of sports today.” Take Serena and Venus Williams, two sisters who are pretty much one another’s only competitors in tennis; collectively winning ten of the last thirteen Wimbledon titles. Tiger Woods is another notch on the sport system’s meritocratic belt. But we can’t deny that less than comforting moments have risen, and continue to pop up in the history of sports coverage. Moments that many people try to downplay, moments that prove the industry is more of a mirror for societal issues than a halo for equality.
Women’s hockey legend, Angela James, dealt with discriminatory language ever since she immersed herself in the game at the age of six. Thankfully, these negative experiences never wavered Angela’s focus from her true calling. In the newly released biography, Angela James: The First Superstar of Women’s Hockey, Angela recalls one particularly troubling incident:
“At the Three Nations Cup, there were some guys in the hotel partying. One said, ‘Hey everyone, come in, yeah, except for that nigger out there. Stay out there.’ I had to deal with that. I had to go back to bed and try to get ready to play in this championship, and I couldn’t believe that I had just experienced something like that. Here you are representing your country, and somebody is saying that to you.”
There was Angela, a top scoring hockey player, marked an outsider and made to doubt her status as a representative for Canada. Making a name for yourself in such a competitive field is never an easy task, especially when Angela had to deal with remarks such as “blackie, blackie” on the ice. Experiencing the same ignorance now as an established player assuredly brought the myth of colour-blindness in sports crumbling down. Journalist Bruce Arthur reiterated the same realization in an article for the National Post: “…For geographical and cultural and historical reasons, hockey is the least racially diverse major sport in North America, unless you count NASCAR.”
Angela dealt with racist slurs on her own, but the Ontario Hockey Association and other ruling bodies need to step up and back their athletes with measures that address discriminatory behaviour. Race is just one of the many aspects that filter the experiences of athletes, and realizing this is essential if we wish to uphold the principle of athletic achievement based on merit.
Check out Angela James: The First Superstar of Women’s Hockey on our website, and stay tuned for more updates!