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Josh Ho-Sang and the lingering ‘race card’ issue

You'll have to pardon me for saying this out loud: one of the most important parts of the draft combine in Toronto is that it gives teams the opportunity to interview players and get a bead on their mental maturity.

When you're 17 or 18 and you're an incredibly-talented hockey player, you tend to assume that your shit doesn't stink (frankly, that's the case for many 17-to-18-year-old males, period). I've found that players who don't eventually grow out of the me-me-me phase "don't make it" because they refuse to believe that they need to self-improve in terms of fitness, off-ice preparation or their on-ice skills.

In the case of controversial Windsor Spitfires prospect Josh Ho-Sang, his long-term suspension and team-related indiscretions get lumped in with a harder Canadian question: are scouts and teams allowing immaturity and intense personality to lump him in with the Evander Kanes, Dustin Byfugliens and P.K. Subbans of the hockey world because he's black?

The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons profiled Ho-Sang, stating that more than a few teams have the 5'11," 175-pound forward on their "No-Draft List," and Simmons found that Ho-Sang was more than willing to address the elephant in the room:

Ho-Sang does wonder if in a very white hockey world, he isn’t looked upon differently because of his colour.

He had some difficulties with his general manager, Warren Rychel, and others in Windsor and worries about what has been said about him.

“I think colour definitely plays a factor in perception,” said Ho-Sang. “People watch my games and are very critical. When I start dangling, my GM calls me a Harlem Globetrotter. Why am I a Harlem Globetrotter? Analogies get related to basketball all the time with me. I don’t play basketball. I’ve never played basketball. I’m a hockey player. Why are they doing that?

“When I do anything, I’m just another black kid with attitude. I think I get misunderstood because these guys want to figure me out without talking to me and try to come up with every single reason why there’s something wrong with me. With all this going on, the only place I can win this argument is on the ice.”

But Ho-Sang is bright enough to know that if he gets there, when he gets there, he won’t just be another player — he can’t just be another player.

Is this just an 18-year-old who's a little immature talking?

“I’m emotional,” he said. “I’m more emotional than most people. That poses a problem for the hockey world. A lot of players are trained to hold their emotions. Look at Sidney Crosby, how much emotion do you see? Pavel Datsyuk, the same. Jonathan Toews, the same. All stone-faced. P.K. gets into trouble. Kane gets in trouble. The guys with more personality play with something more.

“I love to dangle. I love to play an offensive game. I love to celebrate when I score. I believe in myself. And when I tell them that, they take from that what they want.”

Simmons continues at extended length, and he certainly speaks his mind, so he'll allow you to draw your own conclusions.

I find this very in-vogue-in-Canada question as to whether players who are black are subject to a different set of behavioral rules all very troubling. When I grew up playing street hockey with the kids who weren't quite good enough to play on the high school team, I played with my Korean-American pal who introduced me to hockey, I played with Arab-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, youg men of all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds and religions, etc., and someone's ethnicity or background just didn't fare into the, "Do I want him on my team?" equation.

We obviously still live in a world where race matters, where ethnicity matters, where nationality matters (just ask Don Cherry), where gender matters, where sexuality matters, and that's not going to change, but I still think it's a real shame that so many people still judge hockey players based upon what they look like. That ain't right.

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Comments

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Why are they doing that?

Because everyone can understand what someone is talking about when they bring up the Globetrotters.  And also, there is no hockey version of the Globetrotters.

Posted by Garth on 06/25/14 at 09:50 AM ET

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If I’m Kenny Holland, I’d trade down to get a 1st and 2nd rounder and then use the 1st rounder on Ho-Sang. The Wings have the type of system that they can grow this kid up enough to keep him within reasonable constraints. Beyond that, he’d be the greatest value/bang for their buck late in the first round. They can get top-10 talent in the 20s like they did with Tony Mantha.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/25/14 at 10:26 AM ET

blammo's avatar

By all accounts he has a behavioural issue. Hockey is a team game, players need to buy in to the program in order to have team success. Unlike that other un-named game where they dribble balls and shoot it through hoops, a star player in hockey can not consistently carry his team on his back.

This situation is similar to Nail Yakupov. Scouts were questioning his maturity and commitment etc. and then the media jumps on their backs for being anti-Russian. And how has that worked for Edmonton?

The Blackhawks at one time were rumoured to be considering trading Patrick Kane. The Boston Bruins did trade Tyler Seguin. Neither of whom are black. But both of whom were considered to have behavioural issues.

Do you see a theme here?

The one thing these scouts do is analyze talent, not just physically but mentally. It is what they do. It is all they do.

Furthermore, how is this a Canadian thing George? Are there no American scouts? GMs? Owners?

 

Posted by blammo from Vancouver, BC on 06/25/14 at 10:50 AM ET

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This situation is similar to Nail Yakupov. Scouts were questioning his maturity and commitment etc. and then the media jumps on their backs for being anti-Russian. And how has that worked for Edmonton?

Edmonton is also a hot mess without established leaders like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall, and Howard and without coaching at the level of what Detroit has. Do you think kids like Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, or Hall - barely with chest hair themselves - are going to straighten out an immature kid like Yakupov? They are still figuring out the league and growing up themselves.

Regarding Chicago, how many Cups has Kane won with them? I know Kane has had past issues but when was the last time you heard about shenanigans off the ice? Seems like he’s growing up some, no?

Seguin got bounced from Boston in a deal that ended up helping both teams - this is truly a home run for both Dallas and Boston. Did you hear anything about Seguin being a locker room problem or having off-ice issues this year?

What I notice in the NHL is that the kids who are immature often end up growing up. Very few guys of high caliber can’t stick around because of immaturity or behavior problems. My guess is that teams with established leaders in the locker room, in the coaching offices, on the ice, and in the executive suite have an even higher rate of turning immature players into reliable players.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/25/14 at 11:11 AM ET

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I agree with Vito.  This kid looks like he could be a bargain waiting to happen.

Posted by captaineclectic on 06/25/14 at 11:17 AM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

On the flip side its hard not to become a little cynical and develop a chip on your shoulder when everyone notices your skin tone before your hockey play.  I imagine once he’s in a more professional environment some of that may ease up since he has to deal with less mature indivuals currently.  I’d absolutely take a gamble on him

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 06/25/14 at 12:00 PM ET

awould's avatar

I don’t know anything about the kid, never heard of him, sounds like he’s got real talent though.

I’ll say this though, if he’s being compared to the Harlem Globetrotters while skating on the ice, it’s because he’s black. Period.

And I’d be more concerned if he didn’t stand up for himself since it sounds like nobody else will. Seems like its maybe worth the gamble.

Posted by awould on 06/25/14 at 12:29 PM ET

shanetx's avatar

Seguin got bounced from Boston in a deal that ended up helping both teams - this is truly a home run for both Dallas and Boston.

Boston traded a player who is now 22 and who scored 37 goals this year.  They got back a 28 year old who scored 10 and who peaked at 36 in 08-09.  This was far from a home run for Boston.  It’s closer to a train wreck than it is to a home run.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 06/25/14 at 12:39 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Ho-Sang sure sounds like he’s more than ready to make excuses.  And he’s not going to get ANYWHERE (nor should he) if he decides to use his skin color somehow as a crutch.  At that point he’s the one making it about race and skin I guess, not anyone else.

“What you have to understand with Josh is, the hockey world won’t conform to him, he’ll have to conform to the hockey world,” said Jimmy Hughes, the Leafs’ director of player development, who has been watching Ho-Sang play “since he was a bantam.”

Boom, and there’s the problem with his mindset.  If he’s determined to bend everyone else to him, he has a rude wake-up call waiting.  Legit first-round talents drop to the 2nd, 3rd or worse, rounds every year for truly puzzling and minor reasons (“He’s a quarter inch too short.”  “He had a bad WJC’s”  “He got suspended for the only fight he got into in his playing career”  “He played against suspect competition” “He didn’t respond well on-ice to his coach grabbing his throat and yelling at him”).  Character matters, and is not viewed as “minor reasons”, so imagine what that does to draft stock.

And him stating he’s the single best player in the draft (and that he would be next year too, basically) is not doing him any favors in that regard either.

Basically, if he wants to stop being viewed as immature and a risk, he prooooooobably shouldn’t then not spout immature things every time he opens his mouth.


Just ask Johnny Manziel what attitude does for perceptions of you… and last I checked Manziel was not only quite white, but also from a fairly wealthy family.  It’s not a unique thing to minorities in sport.  You’ll be reminded of this in the coming fall when millions tune in on Sundays hoping to watch Johnny Manziel fail spectacularly and get ground into the turf.

Posted by Primis on 06/25/14 at 12:50 PM ET

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I’ll say this though, if he’s being compared to the Harlem Globetrotters while skating on the ice, it’s because he’s black.

I guess that explains why Datsyuk’s dangles have been compared to the Harlem Globetrotters, because there’s nobody in the world blacker than Pavel Datsyuk, right?

Posted by Garth on 06/25/14 at 12:59 PM ET

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The reality is race discussion has degenerated to the point where it’s taken as fact that if something happens to a (insert nature on non-majority status here), said thing was ineffably caused by (nature of non-majority status).  If that’s not literally the very first thing mentioned, it’s in the top 3.

There’s precisely no nuance, or maturity, or insight, or even basic common sense in 99.9% of race/gender/orientation/whatever ‘debates’ today, because it’s about winning the race to get to play the aggrieved victim card.

IMO, this is because people have conditioned themselves to treat any statement that addresses cultural (or even just social) norms that are different from their own as inherently pejorative.  If you say group x is better or worse at something than groups a-z and group x enjoys some form of present culturally protected status you’re going to get a face full of outrage, even if the statement is plausibly true.  Hell, even if the statement is irrefutably true.

Case in point: that guy.  He will not be the first player to get placed on a no-draft list because he’s overemotional or overcelebratory, but because he is a member of a minority group said minority group will always, always be cited as the reason for the no-draft status.

Evander Kane was drafted #4 overall.  Subban was drafted in the 2nd.  Byfuglien was drafted super late.  Were all of their draft statuses and playing careers impacted by their race, or were a whole bunch of other things far more relevant?

What I notice in the NHL is that the kids who are immature often end up growing up. Very few guys of high caliber can’t stick around because of immaturity or behavior problems. My guess is that teams with established leaders in the locker room, in the coaching offices, on the ice, and in the executive suite have an even higher rate of turning immature players into reliable players.

If you’re good enough you’re good enough and you’ll get drafted, played, and paid.  As far as emotional makeup goes, it’s the chicken or the egg debate.  Did the guy stick around because he changed, or did he change, so he stuck around?

Hell, even if we just look at Detroit’s recent history we’ve got the Liv’s, Axelsson’s and Grigorenko’s to show us there are guys who don’t get over the hump, commitment to the NHL-wise.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, really.  I just hope people stop ascribing any decision made on anyone of any non-majority status as one made explicitly because of their non-majority status.  It cheapens and demeans the care and concern that has to be made when there actually are cases where someone isn’t drafting or hiring or playing or promoting or whatever a minority group based on their status.

In short, charging someone or some group of people as racists, sexists, whatever should be the LAST stop on the line… made after there’s substantial and persuasive evidence to support the claim, not the first club someone reaches for in the bag when something doesn’t work out to their satisfaction or there’s something less than positive being said about them, personally.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 06/25/14 at 01:17 PM ET

awould's avatar

Posted by Garth on 06/25/14 at 01:59 PM ET

One thing does not disprove the other. Obviously, I can’t prove my assertion either, so agree to disagree I guess. But I find it more and more that a person is criticized for complaining about racist treatment while the treatment itself increasingly gets a pass.

Should this kid be judged for making it a ‘front and center’ issue? Sure. It speaks to how he handles adversity. But if he’s claiming he feels he’s treated differently because he’s black, that he’s compared to a globetrotter because he’s black, and it’s not a huge stretch that he’s called a Harlem Globetrotter because he and they are black, that analogies to basketball are made all the time, maybe he’s right. Looks like a duck, sounds like a duck.

Posted by awould on 06/25/14 at 01:18 PM ET

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Ho-Sang sure sounds like he’s more than ready to make excuses.  And he’s not going to get ANYWHERE (nor should he) if he decides to use his skin color somehow as a crutch.  At that point he’s the one making it about race and skin I guess, not anyone else.

Posted by Primis on 06/25/14 at 01:50 PM ET

Fortunately people with this mindset are literally dying off. You’re a f***ing sideshow act when you say stupid shit like that. Why not just say what you really think which is that racism doesn’t exist, all brown people want a free ride and the “liberal media” will not rest until they have helped them achieve it? Dumb ass.

Posted by godblender on 06/25/14 at 01:55 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

I did realize just how racist people.. Northern people at that.. Still are til I met my wife.  Its really given me a whole new perspective on how people view minorities whether or not its overt or they don even realize their doing it.. It happens.. A lot. 

And I’ve never heard f Pav the globe trotter.. Must’ve missed that article.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 06/25/14 at 02:10 PM ET

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But if he’s claiming he feels he’s treated differently because he’s black, that he’s compared to a globetrotter because he’s black, and it’s not a huge stretch that he’s called a Harlem Globetrotter because he and they are black,

Case in point.

If you’re going to draw a comparison between a player you think does too much showboating and grandstanding and not enough straight line playing and something else… is there another more apt comparison that should be made?

Look at that kid, he’s out there twirling around like he’s trying out for… what?

Again, people are conditioned to immediately link race and assume that’s the driver of the issue.  Not terribly helpful to the actual issue.

All of that aside, what he ‘feels’ is meaningless to the issue.  The listener doesn’t get to make the decision on what the speaker meant or what they said, or why they said it.  You can always find someone to ‘feel’ this way or that way about a word or a phrase or whatever.  That shouldn’t be the defining limiter of what constitutes proper and improper speech.  For instance:

Fortunately people with this mindset are literally dying off. You’re a f***ing sideshow act when you say stupid shit like that. Why not just say what you really think which is that racism doesn’t exist, all brown people want a free ride and the “liberal media” will not rest until they have helped them achieve it? Dumb ass.

That guy.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 06/25/14 at 02:48 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

All I see in every skill guys scout report is playmaker.. High hockey IQ.. Likes to make the extra pass… Unless ur black then its ” globetrotter”...

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 06/25/14 at 03:18 PM ET

awould's avatar

All of that aside, what he ‘feels’ is meaningless to the issue.

Absurd.

Posted by awould on 06/25/14 at 03:51 PM ET

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If you’re going to draw a comparison between a player you think does too much showboating and grandstanding and not enough straight line playing and something else… is there another more apt comparison that should be made?

Look at that kid, he’s out there twirling around like he’s trying out for… what?

Sorry but I’ve never watched a hockey player dangle/deke with a puck and thought to myself “you know what that looks a hell of a lot like? A basketball player dribbling a basketball!”. Never. Not once. But I get it…you can’t help but make that comparison. It’s so obvious to you. Which makes me wonder about this:

people are conditioned to immediately link race and assume that’s the driver of the issue.

Ahhh. Ok. So you don’t have any actual empirical evidence to support that claim, it’s just that YOU have a propensity to see things that way. For all of your long-winded posts it really only takes a bit of reading between the lines to determine that you have a lot of nothing to say.

Posted by godblender on 06/25/14 at 04:01 PM ET

awould's avatar

For all of your long-winded posts it really only takes a bit of reading between the lines to determine that you have a lot of nothing to say.

It’s his M.O.

Posted by awould on 06/25/14 at 04:13 PM ET

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it’s not a huge stretch that he’s called a Harlem Globetrotter because he and they are black, that analogies to basketball are made all the time, maybe he’s right. Looks like a duck, sounds like a duck.

In a vacuum I would agree, but the reason that I used Datsyuk as an example is that H-Sang himself described what he does as dangling, which is exactly what Datsyuk does, and since Datsyuk himself has been compared to the Harlem Globetrotters doesn’t in rationally make sense that the reason that two guys who do the same type of thing are compared to the same people is directly because they do the same type of thing and not because one of them is black?

If the only other guy who had ever been compared to the Globetrotters was Wayne Simmonds then I would whole heartedly agree with you, but there is a very specific reason that Datsyuk’s play is compared to the Globetrotters.  It’s because of the way he ‘dangles’.  And Ho-Sang himself says that he is compared to them when he dangles.

It would be one thing if Ho-Sang took a basic shot from the hash marks and his coach called him a Globetrotter.  That would be weird.  But nobody is saying that he’s a Globetrotter because he’s black, they’re saying it because of what he does on the ice.

Posted by Garth on 06/26/14 at 08:14 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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