William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Lincoln Brown, a 12-year-old girl who appears in a Los Angeles Kings ad promoting the team's Heritage jersey.
Lincoln Brown doesn't get nervous when she plays for the Los Angeles Lions girls hockey team and the Los Angeles Jr. Kings boys team.
But the 12-year-old confessed to a case of butterflies when the Los Angeles Kings asked her to star in a video ad to promote its '90s Era Heritage Jersey, a white adizero adidas jersey that matches the one the Kings wore from 1988-89 to 1997-98.
"I never thought I would be in a commercial like this," said Lincoln, who's a center for the Lions 12U AAA team and a defenseman for the Jr. Kings. "It was exciting doing something for the Kings, but I was a little nervous because I'm not used to doing that kind of stuff."
You'd never know it by watching the ad. Brown looks like a seasoned performer as she opens an old box near her equipment bag inside a garage and reveals a white, black and silver jersey that resembles the one worn by Kings stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri and Rob Blake, all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The goal of the ad is to sell the jerseys, which will be available Feb. 20 at the Team LA Store and at L.A. Live, then online at adidas.com and NHLShop.com. But Brown's presence in the ad sends another message: that the face of hockey is changing.
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"We saw her, and we were, like, 'She's great,' she's got the attitude, she has the look of exactly who we think that we're going to be looking like when we look at our fan group in the next 10 years," said Ashley Lane, creative director for the Kings. "I think more so it's about the evolution of it. We're looking at who's passionate about this sport, and this particular person happens to be a girl of color. But she's also a fantastic athlete, and we wanted to champion that first and foremost."
While Brown's role is a nod to hockey's future, the commercial and the retro jersey also pay homage to the Kings' past, Lane said.
"This is our future fan base. We want to be able to represent them and show them, 'You have a place with us, and we want you to be part of our future heritage,' just as much as we have our core fans that made up our past," she said.
The ad resonated with Renee Hess, the founder and executive director of the Black Girl Hockey Club, a group that seeks to inspire and sustain passion for hockey within the black community.
"I was so excited to see a little girl who looks like me in a hockey commercial, to be represented in the hockey community in that manner I'd never seen before," said Hess, who lives in Riverside, California. "The hockey community in general is embracing the idea of diversity in their advertising and the way they connect with fans. I had so many people sending me that link (to the ad), 'Have you seen this, have your shared this?'"
The Kings aren't the only business that's acknowledging hockey's increasing diversity. Tide Pods Ultra Oxi detergent rolled out a television ad in December that shows a young black man using his hockey stick to toss a load of laundry into a washing machine while a fatherly voiceover delivers a line familiar to almost all hockey parents: "Soak your nasty jersey. It stinks."
In 2013, Powerade sports drink ran a TV ad titled "Made You Look" that featured athletes playing against societal and sports stereotypes. It included a black hockey player who walked toward the camera and rhetorically asked "Not in the right sport?"
Brown's parents were thrilled that she was selected for the Kings ad and love the message that her presence delivers.
"It actually made me very proud," said Kelvin Brown, Lincoln's father. "The fact that she's a girl also was kind of a big deal to me. When I saw her do her spot and have people support her and make it an important part of their lives to make sure that girls know they have a place, and specifically girls of color, have a place in a sport where you don't normally see girls or people of color, which I didn't see growing up in Michigan."
Hockey has been a big part of Lincoln's life since she was 3 years old, when she took up the game to keep up with older brothers Reichen and Jaxon Brown, who played, her parents said.
Her brothers, now 15 and 17, have stopped playing hockey to pursue other activities, but Lincoln remains "obsessed" with the game and has set her sights on playing hockey at Harvard University, Boston College or the University of Minnesota.
When Lincoln met members of the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team in Los Angeles last year, she told them that she plans on joining the team in a few years.
"She's the most competitive," said Rebecca Warner, Lincoln's mother. "She's very determined. When she wants something, she keeps on it until she gets it."
That determination convinced Dominque DiDia, a Kings senior marketing manager who used to coach Lincoln, that she would be perfect for the jersey ad. Lane agreed.
"We saw her on ice and said, 'This is who we need for this,'" Lane said.