Trying to Break Into Hockey (Media) as a Person of Colour – TheLeafsNation

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I’ve always received jokes from friends and coworkers asking me how I’m such a big hockey fan, being a brown male who follows such a white sport so closely. To be honest, it’s because the sport is so complex and incredibly fun to play. It’s how I’ve developed friendships. My closest friends are those who played hockey with me, whether it’s on a frozen sheet of ice or on a large paved area of asphalt. The amazing thing is that a majority of those close friends from hockey aren’t white.

But the sport that I’ve always tried to professionally crack into is, and that’s what has been problematic for me.

Since I have struggled to find my way into the industry, I have wanted to tell my story about perseverance of trying to make it into the hockey industry, whether it’s in media, or in a hockey related position. Here’s my story.

I have always been told, make connections and you’ll find your way in. Since the end of my first year of university, I have tried to create connections with professionals in hockey and sports media. A professor at Carleton University (where I studied in my first year) connected me with a Masters Student at the time, near the end of my first year.

What has always resonated with me is to create connections in the industry in order to get a job. In my second year, I connected with one of the NHL’s social media managers and one of Sportsnet’s associate producers, and I only grew my professional connections from there. A marketing executive here, a VP at Bell Media there. A YouTuber here, An editor in chief there.

I attended a Ryerson University event in 2018 knowing that Cabbie Richards was going to be there. When I gave him my business card, he thought it was amazing that someone like me made it down to Ryerson, and he mentioned to “be the difference” in a sport where there isn’t much of that. He was impressed by the videos I made at the time, and forwarded my information to a VP & Executive Producer. I interviewed with that individual and another producer, where I remember distinctly being offered three positions. All I had to do was follow up, and I did just that. I even stayed an extra hour to shadow some team members. I followed up after I left. I followed up two weeks after. But I got nothing.

That tore at my confidence. I did so much work throughout my university career. I was told I have a great future ahead of me by people who followed my work. I made so many connections. I interviewed with TSN! But nothing.

Since then, I’ve interviewed for numerous positions in the past year while working part time (and nearly full time) in the restaurant industry and creating content across the board. Most notably, I’ve interviewed for an OHL Social Media Coordinator position, NHL part time social media coordinator, marketing roles, communications roles, etc. In the past two years since I’ve graduated, I’ve been told that I interview well, a stark contrast from when I interviewed throughout my undergraduate career.

I saw in the following month after I interviewed for the OHL Social Media Coordinator that the person who became the OHL Social Media Coordinator was a white, former player. I presumed that a white person got the part time social media coordinator job with the NHL too. That’s a truth that I constantly have to live with in hockey positions that I apply for and don’t even receive an email for. When I get turned down to share my knowledge of hockey in the media, I’ll get turned down, and instead, guess what I’ll see? Another white former hockey player or former executive from the NHL commenting on the sport. And it’s usually a player who has antiquated ideas.

I continue to see that people who are not like me in positions of power in hockey and the media. What does that tell for minorities? Especially when the NHL has a campaign called “Hockey Is For Everyone.”

I have also been told to be different. I’ve tried to do so. I created a YouTube channel to try to bridge the gap of analytics and video breakdown, and every time I mention my content as something a lot of fans can probably get behind (with examples from other sports) to interviewers, I’m shot down. I have interviewed because of my connections, but I haven’t been able to land a full-time job in the industry due to my “lack of experience.” Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m different. Maybe it’s the colour of my skin.

I started a hockey podcast focused on sharing perspectives/analysis on the sport with another minority, The Shades of Hockey Podcast. We almost had Kim Davis, the Senior Executive Vice President of the NHL to talk about her work in social impact for the league. After a year, I couldn’t continue to record because my schedule couldn’t work with my podcast partner. I really wish we could’ve brought it back throughout the 19-20 season, but I was incredibly busy.

Since numerous interviews that I’ve mentioned above, and those that have escaped my memory at the time, I’ve done so much work to (what I think would) separate myself. I’ve reached out to numerous people in the industry, from messaging professionals who work for NHL teams via LinkedIn, trying to figure out the emails of people in hockey media, and direct messaging on Instagram and Twitter. I went to the Leafs’ coaching clinic in 2019, walked the concourse to try to talk to Kyle Dubas, but couldn’t because security stopped me. They were doing their job. But I’m not afraid of trying.

But trying as a BIPOC can be different. Imagine uploading YouTube videos to comment on a sport that is predominantly white. Imagine the racism that individual is victim to on some of the videos posted. I wish you could imagine…

How about this? I’ll show you.

“I THINK UR A FUCKING RETARD U MUSLIM”

“Looking at your ethnicity, you’re not even a real hockey fan; stick to NBA basketball and the Warriors bandwagon where you belong”

“Stfu, you curry eating paki Muslim terriost. U ain’t Canadian”

I’m half Pakistani. Curry is great. I was born Canadian. I’m not Muslim, but even if I was, why would that play a role in my credibility to cover the sport?

I’ve kept those screenshots, and I always will until I can say that I’ve made it into the industry. Even when I make it, I will have to scratch tooth and nail at being the best I can be because the racists will always try to tear at minorities.

I’ve been able to create content for The Nation Network since November of 2018. I recently wrote about growing theleafsnation.com’s Instagram account’s followers by over 10,000 followers after a year and three months, then losing the account because the account was allegedly “impersonating someone else,” and Instagram never resolved it for us. I’m proud of the work that I’ve created for The Nation Network’s social media profiles, from flamesnation.ca, wingsnation.com, theleafsnation.com, and jetsnation.ca.

I pushed for statements, collaborating with the Nation Network’s team to support the blacklivesmatter movement this week after being appalled for the last week. I spoke to my friends about police brutality with friends for hours in that time, but didn’t know what action I should take. I collaborated with the Nation Network Staff to spread the word to hockey fans to donate in supporting the bail of those who have been unjustly jailed for peacefully protesting in the past few days. I have done the same on my personal Instagram and Twitter profiles.

But this isn’t what I saw from a lot of NHL teams. Some supported the police, which ruined the message of inclusivity (see the St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, and Vegas Golden Knights). Some called out the police brutality or the heinous murder of George Floyd (Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers). And there were teams in between. But the league, its players, and its member teams could’ve been better.

If you were truly sick to your stomach, you wouldn’t have been silent when Akim Aliu spoke out in November of 2019. If you were truly for diversity, you wouldn’t have acted once and made that a token response when Don Cherry, Mike Babcock, and Bill Peters left hockey (hopefully for good). Direct fans to supporting blacklivesmatter, whether it’s the bail for those who were unjustly arrested for peaceful protests (often instigated by the police). It’s that easy. When hockey returns, don’t honour the cops. That sends the wrong message to your BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) fans. I understand that people are trying to come from a good place, but until you have a more diverse front office, you won’t truly understand what it means to take action.

Until you have a more diverse sport that isn’t solely for affluent people, you won’t be an inclusive sport. I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door, just as many BIPOC have. When are you going to give us a chance instead of hiring the same white faces in the old boys’ club? There are so many people who deserve a chance because of their work, and because of their skin colour, it seems like they’re often shot down. Instead of thinking that you’ve hired or done enough for BIPOC and the LGBTQ community, strive for more. Listen to the Too Many Men podcast. Check out the Black Girl Hockey ClubBe the difference.