Weekes: NHL needs to get real about inequality

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

Retired NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes has a piece of advice for hockey teams looking to address racial inequality in the sport: start being real.

“I want to see people be real,” said Weekes, the lead analyst at NHL Network and an 11-year NHL veteran, on the ESPN on Ice podcast this week. “You’re real about other things. Say, ‘Hey, this is a problem.’

“We have qualified women and transgendered people and people of color … and let’s put the best people in positions.’ Like [Alabama coach] Nick Saban has said: His job is to get the right people on the bus and get the wrong people the heck off the bus. And that’s it.”

And if someone in the sport commits a racist act? “If you have knuckleheads, get them out of there,” Weekes said. “Boom, you’re gone. It’s a three-year ban or a lifetime ban as a managerial person or a coach.”

Weekes described his experiences as a black player in a predominantly white sport on the podcast.

“The higher up I got in hockey, the more race started to become a factor,” said Weekes. “And I started realizing that, for me, I was walking over Niagara Falls on a tightrope with no safety net.”

The 45-year-old Weekes said he was saddened by the death of George Floyd, who died last week in Minneapolis after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Weekes hopes the protests and unrest following Floyd’s death can be a teaching point for hockey.

“A lot of people in Canada will say ‘Oh, that’s an American problem,'” said Weekes, who was born in Toronto. “It couldn’t be any further from the truth. As a black goalie, specifically. I would have my goalie pads, my bag, my sticks. And next thing you know, cops pull me over. ‘Hey, is this your vehicle? Can we see your license and registration? Is this your car? Are you the owner?’ I had that happen 20 times, maybe, in going to the rink to work on my game as a pro. In a few instances, depending on the vehicle I was driving, if they could see my goalie pads or my hockey bag, they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re Weekes! You’re the goalie! Why don’t you come and play for the Leafs?”

Weeks also outlined his aspirations of being a team president one day.

“I was the first black broadcaster in 91 years of NHL history,” Weekes said. “I would love to be the first black team president in 103 years of NHL history. It starts with support from Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, who I’ve been extremely impressed with. They’ve been great with me.”

Weekes did, however, advocate for the league to implement harsher punishments when it comes to racially motivated incidents or slurs. During a playoff game in 2002, a fan in Montreal threw a banana at Weekes on the ice.

“Yes! Bye. If you are a fan [who does that]? Bye,” Weekes said. “I’ve had this happen to me numerous times. Philly being one of the places, and I love Philly. Why are you cheering for Allen Iverson, but you’re yelling racial epitaphs at me behind the bench?”

Weekes said that “some of the teams have done outstanding work through the years” to make hockey more inclusive.

“The Rangers, during my time there — although they’ve been a little too silent for me lately — were always up front and center,” Weekes said.

The Rangers, under a directive from team owner James Dolan, were the only NHL team not to release a statement about racial inequality this week.

Weekes also called for NHL teams to evaluate their relationships with local police departments.

“It starts with these clubs acknowledging the fact that there’s a problem,” Weekes said. “And there’s been some problems with law enforcement, and that they have it in their city and they’re not naive enough to think that it doesn’t happen. For an example, an NHL club should be very selective, just as they are with their players to do hyper-screening of the law enforcement officials they use to work their venues or protect their players and their families. We’ll be a lot more diligent in the people we select to work with us.”

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