What does golf have in common with hockey? Initially, it was unpopular within the African-American community. But pioneers like Calvin Peete and Tiger Woods have enlivened the sport, inspiring young women like Cheyenne Woods (Tiger’s cousin) to diversify the field.
Hockey is another sport that suffers from a lack of African-American representation. Some black NHL stars do exist, but none have inspired a wide-spread interest in the sport. Yet, many, like Thurgood Marshall College Fund president and CEO Johnny Taylor, believe that as more minorities participate in the hockey, it can become a popular sport within the African-American community.
“If you ask about sports that are not hugely popular within the black community, sports like lacrosse and hockey fall into that category,” Taylor told theGrio. “Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a black craze in the community for golf, but then comes Tiger Woods and other minorities who succeeded in the sport, so I think that hockey is another frontier in the community.”
Indeed, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is at the forefront of this movement. Although TMCF is known for providing scholarships and college/career preparation programs to its nearly 300,000 minority students for over twenty-five years, it is now making strides in developing undergraduate minority hockey programs.
“It’s not that there have not been [black] hockey spectators and players,” Taylor continued, “but now in a substantial and meaningful way I think that we are going to open doors for minorities to engage in hockey.”
Recently, on Capitol Hill, Taylor and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that TMCF is adding a new program to its organization: The National Hockey League/Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholarship Program. This will allow TMCF to not only continuing preparing minority high school students through college, but also to be able to help minority hockey players who want to attend college.
Several members of Congress, the National Hockey League, the Congressional Hockey Caucus and other key participants at the briefing discussed the positive impact that hockey programs have on the development of adolescents’ life skills, character, and academic success.
Taylor said he believes the program will encourage more blacks and other minorities to participate in the sport of hockey.
“Not much of the African-American community has been engaged with hockey, so this is gaining a lot of attention,” Taylor said. “I don’t think most black people think of hockey at all. We know it exists, but I don’t think that we really think about it as a community. We are trying to break barriers with this program.”
The idea for the program came after Taylor’s colleague told him about his experience coaching a hockey program comprised of 5,000 black and Latino inner city kids in Washington, D.C. and Canada. Taylor said after attending a hockey campaign last year sponsored by the program, called Hockey is For Everyone, he was inspired to create a similar program for TMCF.
“I thought that they were so sincere in getting that message out to people that ‘hockey is for everyone,” he asserted to theGrio. “Who would have thought that this outreach was occurring? It wasn’t that I had an intentional dismissal of hockey. I just didn’t have a reason to think about it.”For a long time the National Hockey League (NHL) has encouraged minority students from inner city schools to participate in hockey through various programs, but now many of the students are graduating from these programs, the league wants to ensure that they can transition into college by playing the sport.
After finding out about Hockey is For Everyone and the number of minorities participating in hockey through the NHL, Taylor wanted to be a part of the movement. TMCF will now bring the college component to the array of programs assisting minority players..
“After [witnessing these campaigns], I wanted to take an affirmative step to help the community; and now I’m on-board to help,” Taylor asserted.
This isn’t the first time that TMCF has partnered with a sports association. “We had a long-term relationship with the National Basketball Association and we wanted to continue grow,” Taylor said. “I have been amazed by the support of the National Hockey League as well as the support of their fans and vendors that have made donations to this initiative.”
Through their partnership, minority hockey players who maintain a 3.0 GPA during high school will receive academic scholarships to attend college. Successful students will be able to attend either public universities or historical black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“We want them to go to a school that is best for their education,” Taylor said. “We can’t fault a kid for wanting to go to university that has a great hockey program that will allow them to perfect their skills. Certainly, there is a strong preference for the students to attend HBCUs, but we wanted it to be an option. We don’t want to turn our backs on any kid who wants to pursue a career as a hockey player.”
So far, the organization has raised $120,000 for students who will enter the program, enough to provide full-tuition scholarships to participants.
“Our partnership and this program have exceeded my wildest expectations,” Taylor excitingly said. “I would have never have envisioned this program being a success in such a short amount of time. We are going to make this huge, because we want young people to go to college.”
Taylor emphasized that the scholarship would provide even more minority students with the opportunity to receive an education as he realizes that the financial component of attending college has historically hindered many blacks and Latinos.
“Frankly, it allows us to further engage in our mission by providing even more funding for students,” he said. “That is what is so beautiful about programs like this. They are an additive to our larger mission.”
Additionally, Taylor said that program has also brought more awareness to HBCUs. “We are introducing these colleges to a community of people who don’t even think about them. The benefits are greater than what I could have imagined, especially since part of the mission of TMCF is to help HBCUs become more well-known.”
Taylor hopes that through the scholarship program, more minorities will attend college and become involved in hockey.
“My dream is that one day there will be a break-out African- American hockey player,” he said. “We are trying to increase the number of blacks on hockey teams. I would love for us to have a hero in the space as we think about blacks, like Tiger Woods, who have succeeded and broke barrier. It is just a process, and that is what I hope this all leads to.”