February 12, 2015


The recent coverage of the Evander Kane trade (and the volumes of anticipation leading up to it) provides us with yet another example of how effortlessly the hockey-sphere can saddle a player with "baggage". To me, the real baggage lies within the system that surrounds the players, and the media's interpretation and portrayal of off-ice activities.
Sure, everything players do away from the rink has potential to distract a team's focus on the ice or derail cohesive cultures in the locker room. However, the media (and the team's) portrayal of players' off-ice activity seems to vary wildly depending on the player. Why is it that Evander Kane's off-ice resume, not too dissimilar from a young Patrick Kane's, saddled him with baggage? A quick search of both Kanes and "baggage" provides plenty of evidence of how both players have had their off-ice activity documented in radically different ways. Evander Kane is thoroughly criticized while Patrick Kane is mostly defended, excused, and even celebrated.

Instead of asking the organization, or predominantly white hockey community at large, to reflect on their role in the portrayal and support of a young, Black player, the media more readily classified E. Kane's actions as baggage. Did the Winnipeg Jets organization and their community do everything they could to develop their budding Black player? Are individual organizations (and is the league) prepared for cultural issues that Black and foreign born players experience? This is the real baggage that Kane leaves behind in Winnipeg but will undoubtedly run into for the remainder of his career.

Still, I'm cautiously optimistic that the latest news cycle involving Kane can provide at least another opportunity for teams, media, and communities to either continue or begin discussions about these issues.

For Buffalo, the city hasn't yet had the fortune of having a bona fide NHL star who's also African American. They're hoping Kane can deliver. For Kane, he enters yet another predominantly white hockey community in Buffalo, and continues his journey in what has always been a predominantly white sport. He joins Chris Stewart as the only other player of color on Buffalo's roster. And while Kane won't see the ice for the remainder of this season due to shoulder surgery, it's likely he'll play a major role in what the Sabres hope is a quick ascent from the cellar the next few years. Fans are hoping that acquiring Kane and the imminent draft of McDavid or Eichel will result in their team finally getting a chance to remove the "re" prefix and just start building. For now though, the Sabres, fan base, and Buffalo community have a unique opportunity to leave some baggage in Winnipeg and build a culture with Kane and the rest of its young players to help develop them into NHL stars and leaders instead of mishandled baggage.