Home-grown Series: How the Washington Capitals changed the “flava” for black NHL fans within the District of Columbia and it’s surrounding areas

“That Night”

When the final buzzer sounded and the streets around the Capital One Arena flooded with red, white and blue, I knew it was my time to head downtown to partake in the festivites!

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Picture of Washington Capitals fans celebrate after 2018 Stanley Cup FInals – Courtesy of Google Images

Initally I was in District Heights, MD (Prince George’s County) visiting family and we took to the television screen to watch Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Series. This was the first time any of our hometown teams have been so close to a championship. With our team, the Washington Capitals facing off with the cindarella of the league, Las Vegas Knights who were battle ready through all 5 games, it was a lovely sight to see the Caps host that Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Immediately after the game, the post game coverage begins and all we seen was joyful and passionate faces of Caps fans wondering aimlessly and dancing in the streets. I asked one of my younger cousins if he wanted to partake in the events downtown following the victory. He immediately declined stating that he had to work the next day, which is always a valid excuse in my book.

Another cousin of mine was down to go, yet he was the main individual complaining about us watching the series and continuously asked those of us who were fans, “who cares about hockey?” I said passionately, “we do!” He then continues to state, “black people aren’t into hockey” and my stomach started to grumble like I ate something not fitting. I had to stop within that split second to ask myself, “what year is this” and “are certain sports designated for certain groups of people?” I immediately snapped out of my reflection of those questions and immediately responded, “what are you talking about, black people are into hockey!” A 3 minute conversation of going back and forth on the matter proceeded and all of a sudden across the television screen were waves of people from all backgrounds and yes even majority of their faces were black.

“Exposure is key…”

Those of us who watch sports notice that depending on the specific activity, you’ll see a higher demographic of certain players or followers depending on the sport. I truly believe people don’t think before they say things such as, “black people not being into hockey”. Just because you don’t see as many black men playing hockey, doesn’t mean the interest isn’t there. I also mention specific points to individuals who share that same sentiment. I explain to them that just because the NHL isn’t as popular as the NFL or NBA amongst black people in America, it could be because of limited exposure to the sport or the price to get youth involved with such an expensive sport for low-income families.

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Picture of Classic Jagr Washington Capitals Jersey – Courtesy of Google Images

I remember watching the Capitals at the age of 7 with my grandmother during the “Blue Jersey era” and ironically the last year the Capitals battled for a championship. She wasn’t doing too much watching, but I certainly was and fell in love with the concept on how someone could control something without using their actual hands… and same with soccer. (It just baffles me and it still does to this very day.) Yet, since that innocent exposure to the NHL during the late 90s by my grandmother, it helped me shift my thoughts earlier on for such a sport before I was able to form such a negative idea about it.

“Change is coming!”

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Picture of Devante Smith-Pelly celebrating during a game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals – Courtesy of Google Images

Fast forward to June 7th, 2018, the name Devante Smith-Pelly will always be remembered by Capitals’ fans for years to come, ESPECIALLY for those of us who are black and even those who aren’t, but whom are just fans of the hometown team. Should race matter, no, but it does within our society and some of us continously ignore or address it in so many different aspects. When it comes to sports, which is a microcism of life within itself, we address the same undertones that affect us in everyday life. There was a great column written about Smith-Pelly by another DC native who explained the significance of him being black and how that can motivate a generation of youth in DC to pursue hockey. Ted Leonsis, owner of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals have stated that efforts have been underway of creating a interest of hockey for underserved communities within the District and surrounding areas. I do hope this to be true and I look forward to seeing more of us represented in the ranks of NHL’s best.

– Da’Von Yates

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