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Normalizing Black Voices and Faces in Hockey

'Soul on Ice' documentary maker Kwame Mason insists it's time to 'stay the course' with the inclusion movement in hockey

by Erica L. Ayala / @elindsay08 / NHLSeattle.com

In Part 2 of our conversation with Kwame Mason, we discuss the impact NHL leaders like Kim Davis (the league's senior executive president for social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs) and Tod Leiweke (NHL Seattle CEO) have already made on hockey culture, the Soul on Ice Podcast and how other ethnic communities can amplify their voices and tell their unique hockey histories. 

If you missed part one of this Q&A, you can read it here.

 

Erica Ayala, NHL Seattle: I like how you say, and this is something Renee Hess at Black Girl Hockey Club says, it's not necessarily about regurgitating or having to relive the trauma. But there is an opportunity to learn from the past to make the future better. What conversations have you had recently regarding how to push the sport forward?

Kwame Mason: We've been pushing it forward, now it's just kind of staying the course, is what I would like to think. It's staying the course. It's just like Kim Davis says, this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a marathon, this is gonna take some time. 

And it's going to take-I said this when I went up to Seattle for the first time-Seattle is going to be the benchmark going forward for how organizations are going to look internally. Tod Leiweke, his hiring practices-and he hasn't even broken ice yet-it's incredible. And that's going to show the world of hockey what inclusivity can do for the game. It's going to make it more diverse. When Tod has his team together, they're just gonna have everything covered.

 


NHL Seattle: You've mentioned Kim Davis. What impact do you think she has been able to make on on the NHL in particular?

Kwame Mason: I think her biggest impact is inspiring the troops, inspiring people like myself to know she understands. She doesn't come from a hockey background. But the one thing I love about Kim is the fact she doesn't act like she knows everything. There have been many times we sit on the phone or grab something to eat and we'll just talk hockey stories. And she just absorbs that. 

I know one of the things that players of color didn't really like was in February, they were celebrating different causes. A lot of the players of color were like, "What? February is Black History Month. How are we not celebrating Black History Month?" 

That was one of the first things Kim Davis came in and changed. She made sure February was going to be dedicated to Black History Month and every cause like Hockey Fights Cancer, LGBTQ Pride Month, everybody has their month. 

When you can come into a league as an executive and do things that have never been done before the league, that's doing something right. I can't speak for anybody else. I just thought, "If I'd had you in my life 20 years ago, I'd be a giant by now!"

Visit the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone website 
 

NHL Seattle: You've gone back to your roots with the "Soul on Ice" podcast. How did that come together?

Kwame Mason: I never really thought about doing a hockey podcast. I love the idea of radio, I just didn't love the industry because the industry was very non-inclusive in my opinion. 

Elijah Roberts and Akil Thomas called me almost a year ago and said, "Yo, Kwame, we were just thinking we'd love to do a podcast and we wonder if you could help us out?" 

And then they were like, well, would you mind if we called it "Soul on Ice?" 

We were supposed to release this last summer, but we just couldn't get our ducks in order. The great thing about the podcast is it's another way to reinforce my philosophy of normalizing Black voices and faces in the game of hockey. 

There's a lot of podcasts out there, but as far as Black podcasts go, we're the only ones that are bringing in guys like Grant Fuhr and Blake Bolden, and Kiana Scott talking about women being scouts. That's our style. That's something nobody in the hockey space would bring in, our culture to the game of hockey.

 

NHL Seattle: It seems like the podcast is a vehicle you want to use to bring Black culture to hockey and hockey to Black culture. You've been able to partner with the NHL and Wyclef Jean on a dinner party for hockey players, regardless of their background …

Kwame Mason: How crazy is that? With all that's going on now. And we did that. It's crazy, that was ahead of its time.

Tweet from @NHL: Representation matters. Who was your hockey role model? #BlackHistoryMonth👀👉:@wyclef@SportBlake@connorcarrick@BColes25@BryceSalvador pic.twitter.com/WmO1Iq7jvO

 

NHL Seattle: Players are talking about Black hockey players and Black culture in hockey, but there are other aspects of hockey culture, other communities of hockey culture that also want their moment. What would you say to someone who identifies as Indigenous or is part of the Latinx community and doesn't see their hockey history reflected in the larger group of hockey-loving people?

Kwame Mason: I would say do not wait for anybody to tell your story. You gotta go do that. That's what I did with "Soul on Ice." I didn't wait for anyone … I'm taking responsibility for my people and our culture and this game that I love. I'm not talking about it. I'm being about it. I wanted to change. I wanted to see our faces, I wanted to hear our stories in the game of hockey. I went out there and I told our story about us in the game of hockey. 

There's a documentary, "They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice." It's a great documentary about the Indigenous experience of the game of hockey. We need a new version because that history is incredible. Going back to the Mi'kmaq who were the ones who fashioned all the old hockey sticks. Those Mi'kmaq are the ones who gave the hockey sticks to the players of the Colored Hockey League in the Maritimes. 

The first person of color to play in the National Hockey League was a man by the name of Larry Kwong. There's another cool documentary about Larry Kwong called "The Shift." Kwong was the first person of color to play in the National Hockey League ... He was a rock star in the Chinese community. A lot of people don't know his story. So, that's my advice, take a hold of your history and let it be known. 

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