There was a time not long ago when the only thing black in professional sports was the ink that reporters used to write their stories. Then boxing legends like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis jumped into the arena. This made professional sports more heavily integrating. Every major professional sport, from golf to hockey, has at least one black face making headlines through their league-leading play. Yes, there is now a black man holding it down in the sport of hockey.After 58 games played by the Calgary Flames in the 2001-2002 season, Jarome Iginla is leading the National Hockey League with 35 goals and with 64 points.This right-winger from Canada is also a Most Valuable Player candidate. Since the NHL began in 1917, there’s never been a black player close to being named MVP. The most acclaimed black athlete to ever play in the NHL is probably the legendary goaltender Grant Fuhr of the Edmonton Oilers. He is sixth all-time in wins for goalies and has earned five Stanley Cup rings. Playing along side Wayne Gretsky, he was able to see the MVP trophy, but never able to even think of claiming it as his own. The fact that this MVP trophy has eluded blacks could be due to the fact that hockey was the last professional team sport to be integrated. Willie O’Ree, legally blind in his right eye, had the will of a tiger. He broke the color barrier in the NHL by playing for the Boston Bruins beginning on Jan. 18, 1958. Sixteen years elapsed. Then, in 1974, the Washington Capitols drafted Mike Marson, making him only the second black player to receive a paycheck from a NHL team.At the start of Black History month, there were only 13 blacks on eight teams. The black population of the NHL is similar to the population of Iginla’s native Canada, where hockey is widely played. Both in Canada and the NHL, blacks constitute less than 2 percent of the population. This is a great time for Iginla to become a tremendous black icon in hockey. With Tiger Woods’ recent domination in golf and the Williams sisters’ success in tennis, hockey is next in line for blacks to integrate and eventually dominate.In all sports, blacks have climbed mountains of competition, overcome tidal waves of hate, stood strong through hurricanes of threats and managed to fly to success without the arms of society.I will be waiting to see if Jarome Iginla will become a pioneer in hockey like Jackie Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe and so many others have in their respective sports.Iginla, do your thing!
Ibram Rogers, 19, is a magazine production student from Manasas, Va. He can be reached at Jamalrara@aol.com