Edmonton Oilers Defenceman, NHL
Mediaplanet sat down with Darnell Nurse to discuss diversity in hockey and Black History Month.
Over the past few years, the NHL has put a larger emphasis on making hockey more accessible for Black players, why do you think this is important?
As a Black hockey player, making the game more accessible and inclusive enhances the NHL both on and off the ice. Any time that you can add more diversity there is an ability to impact more communities. Fans, both young and old, can see themselves being a part of the sport through the players they can identify with. When I was growing up, a player like Jarome Iginla really stood out to me because he was someone that looked like myself and gave me the feeling that playing in the NHL was possible. Accessibility gives more kids in the Black community the opportunity to play — and with that opportunity — a greater chance of more Black players in the NHL.
With hockey being a predominantly white sport, were there any challenges breaking into the game growing up?
Honestly, I was very fortunate to have been able to get into hockey from a young age. My parents made a lot of sacrifices, as many parents do, to afford and to allow me to play. There were definitely challenging times when there were some racist remarks or taunts that took place, but I never let them define me. Those times were challenging growing up, but in the few instances where I had teammates — no matter their background — stand up to it with me and that meant a lot. It’s important for the kids growing up that go through these experiences know they have support from teammates and also coaches and parents. I was very fortunate to have that support.
What do you believe are some of the barriers that need to be addressed to increase diversity and representation in hockey?
The obvious barrier that needs to be addressed is the cost of the sport. From equipment prices to fees, the costs for parents are far too high. Many underrepresented communities in the game of hockey are communities that, in a lot of cases, do not have the extra resources to be able to give their children a chance to play hockey.
Can you tell us about a significant event or person in Black history that has inspired you?
There have been many inspirations in the Black community that I have had but the ones in the hockey community have had the greatest impact on me. I did a speech on Willie O’Ree in elementary school. His story and the adversity he faced to be the first Black hockey player in the NHL was very inspiring. Jarome Iginla was someone I really enjoyed watching play growing up. Guys like, Anson Carter, Wayne Simmonds, Joel Ward, Georges Laraque, Donald Brashear, Mike Grier, and Chris and Anthony Stewart. These were all players that I would watch growing up and would always give me the belief that I could play in the NHL one day.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History month in my mind, is not only an opportunity to celebrate, but also to educate and learn about the Black community. There are great stories that arise each February — whether in the arts, sports, politics, business, etc. — that even as a part of the Black community, help me continue to learn about the impact of so many great people and organizations. There’s also an opportunity to learn about causes that can make great differences in some of our underserved communities. There are a lot of great organizations doing great things, whether it’s in the sports world, education system, or helping parents in need. This month can give those organizations a platform and people the opportunity to make a difference in other’s lives.