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Black History Month: An Interview with Jarome Iginla

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jarome Iginla was born in Edmonton, Alberta and grew up in the nearby community of St. Albert. He found a love of hockey early in life and began his National Hockey League (NHL) career at the young age of 18, playing for the Calgary Flames. Mr. Iginla served as team captain for the Flames from 2003 to 2013 and was one of the first Black captains in the NHL. He was also the first Black player to win the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard trophies, as well as the Lester B. Pearson award. Mr. Iginla was a key member of Canadian men’s hockey team in the 2002 Winter Olympics, helping Canada win its first gold medal in Olympic men’s hockey in 50 years. Mr. Iginla joined the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 and in January of 2016, he became the 19th player in NHL History to score 600 career goals. Mr. Iginla took time out of a busy NHL season to answer our questions about Black History Month, being a Black player in the NHL and the role of sports in promoting racial inclusion and human rights.

A focused Jarome Iginla, dressed in Colorado Avalanche gear, looks towards the left.
Jarome Iginla, #12 of the Colorado Avalanche, looks on during third period action against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on January 18, 2016 in Winnipeg. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 2-1. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

Is Black History Month important to you?

Black History Month is important to me because it is a reminder that it wasn't that long ago that people of colour had to march for the right to be treated just like anyone else, both in Canada and in the US.

What was it like growing up as a person of colour in Edmonton?

I was fortunate that growing up I didn't have many issues. I was always the only Black hockey player on my team but my teammates and parents were always great to me. School was good and sports was good. But I certainly don't take for granted the fact that many others face challenges growing up because of the colour of their skin.

What kinds of challenges have you faced as a Black hockey player in the NHL? How have you handled them?

I’ve been very fortunate since arriving in the NHL not to have any memorable incidents. I came in at a time where the NHL had sensitivity programs for the players as well as a diversity program. I got to work with Willie O’Ree at some of the many youth programs he is a part of.1 He was the first Black player in the NHL and I know that in his time, it was much more challenging. He paved the way to make my goal of playing in the NHL easier and seem possible.

Do you see a role for sports in promoting racial inclusion and human rights?

Sports is a big part of life, especially for young people. I would hope that all sports, especially hockey, will continue to seize every opportunity to make everyone welcome.

 

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1 Willie O’Ree was the first Black person to play in the NHL. For more information see “Willie Eldon O’Ree” (http://www.legendsofhockey.net/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SearchPlayer.jsp?player=13894), accessed February 11, 2016.