Last Wednesday, October 7, Quinton Byfield made NHL history. And the 18-year-old hasn't even played a game in the league yet!
He was selected second-overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2020 NHL Draft, which made him the highest selected Black player ever. The draft is the process where teams have the chance to select the rights to young players wanting to enter the league. Getting to pick in the top five or so is a big deal for teams, as those players usually end up being important parts of their franchise for years to come.
Here's the moment where Kings general manager Rob Blake decided to use his team's coveted second pick on very talented young Canadian.
You've got to love that white suit! And the bow tie! Full props to Quinton for getting dressed up for the event, even if COVID meant he couldn't attend it in person. After all, this pick was a big moment for the Newmarket, Ontario native and the league.
Particularly in 2020.
An issue in hockey?
The two biggest storylines of this year have been the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests around systemic racism touched all aspects of our lives, including sports. Numerous leagues around the world sported the BLM slogan on their uniforms and in stadiums.
Then on August 26, the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks led a league-wide walkout, or strike, that suspended the playoffs for two days. Several other leagues—MLS, MLB, WNBA—joined in this protest immediately. Then there was the NHL.
Though the league did eventually also join in, it was much slower to do so. Some critics pointed to the fact that, unlike every other major pro sports league in North America, the NHL is still very dominated by white athletes. This fact, they feel, leaves the league less aware of the problem of racism in hockey.
Hockey Diversity Alliance
Historically, there are more Black players are in the NHL today than ever, including stars P.K. Subban, Darnell Nurse, Wayne Simmonds and Evander Kane. In June, many of these players and others joined together to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA).
We are proud to announce the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance ?✊? pic.twitter.com/TAucuYJxp2
— Wayne Simmonds (@Simmonds17) June 8, 2020
Their goal was to create an environment for youth hockey that was open to everyone in ways that it hadn't been before. For example, in September, HDA member Akim Aliu started a youth hockey team in Toronto for BIPOC kids.
In their statement, the group wrote: We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands will do so without worrying about race, gender or socioeconomic background (and) will be able to express their culture, identity, values and personality without fear of retribution.
Helping bring change?
The participation of Black players, like Quinton Byfield, in the league doesn’t fully address this issue on its own. Just last week, the HDA announced that it was breaking away from the NHL because it was disappointed in the league's inability to make "any measurable commitments to end systemic racism in hockey."
However, Byfield seems to recognize the importance and significance of his future in the league.
"I want a lot of people to have the experience growing up that I did," he told the media after he was picked. "You just come to the rink, play the game and race wasn't even a factor in that. It's really good to spread positivity about that and be motivation for other young kids."
Have a look at some highlights from his exciting junior career with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, and imagine a bright future for him and hockey.