By Steven Marowski
When people bring up hockey, they often only bring up fighting and Canada. Although hockey was invented in Canada, it has become one of the most popular sports across all of the Northern Hemisphere — or most of it, anyways.
Just recently, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If you’re a weekly subscriber to SI magazine in the United States, however, you didn’t see Subban grace its cover. That’s right — Subban was on the cover of the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated, not the American. The U.S. version featured New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray.
In their respective stories, Gray scored four touchdowns in one game against the Indianapolis Colts, while Subban is praised for his leadership of the NHL’s top team, the Montreal Canadiens.
Most people might not even know who P.K. Subban is. Subban won the Norris trophy in 2013 (award for the NHL’s best defenseman), was tied for the leading scoring defenseman that same year, and was an Olympic gold-medalist in 2014. This year, he is considered one of the front-runners for the Norris trophy again. If that resume doesn’t earn you a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated across the world, I don’t know what will.
Eighty-two games is a long season, more than five times as long as an NFL season. The sports have many similarities in physicality, and many people (including myself) believe that hockey is a more physical sport than football. Hockey players play back-to-back days most weeks, something that football players don’t do. That said, I absolutely think hockey and its athletes should have more coverage than they do now.
Chris Hagerman, a history professor at Albion College, has studied the role of popular images and how athletes are viewed in sports media. He offered to comment to the Pleiad about hockey’s perceived lack of popularity in the United States.
“The players in the United States may not get the recognition they deserve, because hockey, other than in certain regions, does not have a high profile like it does in Canada,” Hagerman said. “Few people in non-traditional hockey markets have ever skated. It’s hard to understand that doing all the things you need to do to play the game and doing it on skates is hard. Typically, when people get on skates for the first time, they think ‘Woah, this is really hard’.”
Playing 82 games (not including playoffs) is a gruesome thing to go through, especially when most games are on back-to-back nights. America needs to realize that hockey players are overshadowed by other athletes, even though they have schedules that are even more strenuous, and are playing one of the most physical sports around.
I understand some magazines have different covers for different regions. I also understand that in the United States, hockey is underappreciated. It’s underappreciated to the point that one of the NHL’s best players can’t be on the cover of a magazine in the United States.
“The game seems relevant in warm climate communities because the organizations reach out to the community, start minor hockey programs around the area, and win championships. That’s how the culture can be built in the warmer climate regions,” Hagerman said.
Because hockey is not as diverse as other sports, it appeals to mostly the white population. In football and baseball, the nationalities are so diverse, that the sports gain a stronger fan-base because of it. If hockey became a more diverse sport, it could gain a much wider following, and as a result, it would get the recognition that it rightfully deserves.
Subban has been in the spotlight on and off the ice. In the first game of the Eastern Conference semi-final last season, Subban scored the overtime game-winning goal against Boston to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead in the series. Following the game, there were numerous tweets from fans in Boston directed at Subban in a racist manner, all because their team lost on a goal that Subban scored.
“The racism is an uglier side of the sport that they’re trying to confront nowadays,” Hagerman said. “It’s a challenge for the sport, considering where it comes from. In Canada, because the population has changed so much, you will see a lot more minority children now playing the sport. Over time, it will change as the composition of the sport changes.”
I think the way that Subban handled the matter was extremely impressive. In a post game interview, he stated, “What people may say on Twitter or social media is not a reflection by any means of the league or the Boston Bruins.” The class act that Subban brings night in and night out makes him one of the top defensemen in all of hockey, and in my opinion, one of the more humble and underrated athletes of our generation.
To many Americans, the idea of a black hockey player maybe seem unusual. After all, it’s not surprise that hockey has been and continues to be a predominantly white sport. But the number of minority members beginning to play the game and break through to the NHL has been gradually increasing over the last decade. In 2004, 17 black players played in the NHL. Now, there are 30 black NHL players. Sure, having Subban on the cover of the United States version of Sports Illustrated might not have appealed to those who are not familiar with him or the game, but it would have been great to show that anyone can play the game of hockey, no matter their race.
We have seen the gradual increase of integration in other sports in the past as well. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and he paved the way for other African-Americans and minority groups to play professional sports. Along with Subban, players like Wayne Simmonds, Evander Kane, and sure-to-be Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla have proved that anyone can play hockey. Having Subban on the cover of the United States version of Sports Illustrated would have solidified this point, and possibly could have shed a new light on the game of hockey.
So yes, P.K. Subban should have been on the cover of the United States version of Sports Illustrated. Sure, maybe Jonas Gray’s four touchdowns in one game was an impressive story, but it seems as though we see football player after football player on the cover of Sports Illustrated week in and week out. The fact that Subban’s story WASN’T EVEN MENTIONED IN THE U.S. VERSION says a lot about where hockey stands in the United States. It’s time for hockey to gain its rightful place in the United States, and it can start with just one magazine cover, featuring one of the best players in our era.
“It definitely would have benefited the game of hockey to have Subban on the cover — it’s about the profile of the sport,” Hagerman said. “I think having him as a representative of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports (the Montreal Canadiens) won’t make a difference in Canada. But in terms of increasing the profile of the sport in the United States, it would be good to remind people that this is one of the big four professional leagues.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons