Soul on Ice: A Black Man Goes to His 1st Hockey Game

A journey into the great ice cavern to study its people.

Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers
Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers Elsa/Getty Images

Having just moved from Los Angeles to New York, I was more than lucky to have avoided my first truly harsh winter in 10 years. However, and I’m not sure of the internal machinations that fed this feeling, dodging the biting cold and fierce wind of winter left me a smidge unfulfilled. Empty. Hollow as a Jay Electronica release date. What is life without braving the elements? How can you claim a sincere feeling of accomplishment if you won’t plunge your hand deep into the murky dishwater and unplug the proverbial sink of life?

My most adventurous experience with snow involved sledding on borrowed garbage-can lids in a city park, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace my inner Matthew Henson. I pulled out the North Face and ventured into the vast white tundra of professional hockey. Here in my log, I, Na-Negro of the North, observed the traditional customs and practices of these hearty snow people. Lewis and Clark ain’t s–t.

The Cataloging of People

The wind bit at my face as I stood outside the great rusted cavern known as Barclays Center.

I started tentatively inside and began to scan the herd of jersey-wearing Flyers and Islanders fans shuffling inside. Not a single brown face in sight. It’s widely known that hockey is a “white” sport, but this is often said in an anecdotal fashion; it couldn’t be that true. An event in the largest city in America has to have nonwhite attendees, right? It’s 2016. Alas, I couldn’t find a speck of cinnamon in the frothy chai latte and continued to my seat.

A bit nervous, I again scanned the crowd for a compatriot. Then I heard a tiny voice: “Hace frío, no?” I turned. A school had brought roughly 100 students of various ages to the game. After a bit of observation, I found that this school had also brought 100 students of various ages to New York from Mexico. After questioning the comprehensiveness of my American education, I felt reassured that these parka-clad youths were also conducting delicate sociological research.

An Observation: Hockey vs. Basketball

In organized sports, basketball and hockey fill the same portion of the calendar year: winter. So as a spectator, you may only have enough energy to logically follow one of the two sports. I’m certain there are lonely, unoccupied people who actively follow both sports, but there’s clearly a tribal divide between Viking folk and warm-weather people (sans Upper Midwest outliers).

After spotting seven to 10 shaggy-haired young men with their hair jutting from the rear of their ball caps, I came to a realization: Hockey is the last sanctum for urban lower- to middle-class white people. Unlike NASCAR, hockey is more riffraff than racist. It’s the perfect game for college-basketball lovers and potential Trump voters who can’t vote for Clinton because thinly veiled sexism wasn’t enough.

The Aforementioned Contest