By Jeffery Tram (@Jeffery_Tram)
Sitting unconventionally in his home of Newmarket, Ont. with his family, Quinton Byfield watched as he was selected second overall in the 2020 NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings, becoming the highest drafted Black player in NHLhistory.
The 6’4 Jamaican Canadian goes to a franchise in need of a generational player that could change the course of their future. Byfield has the potential to be that guy. He recorded an impressive 32 goals and 82 points in 45 games last season with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. Named CHL Rookie of the Year in 2018-19, Byfield won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Byfield has big expectations on the ice, but what about outside of the game? Being the highest drafted Black player is a historical moment worth celebrating. It comes at a time where the NHL has recently acknowledged racism within the sport and is trying to take steps to diversify.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), co-founded by Akim Aliu and Evander Kane, united players of colour together to help “eradicate racism and tolerance in hockey.” The importance of this alliance is it creates a community for players who may feel alienated in a league that is predominately white. The HDA helped inspire the NHL to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter during the heightened moments of the worldwide protests, but many say that the NHL is not doing enough. This was evident as the HDA recently announced they were cutting ties with the league due to their lack of commitment to ending systemic racism in the sport.
It is typically common in hockey culture for players to be more reticent, especially on social issues. In comparison, LeBron James and the NBA have been very vocal about racial injustice, going as far as encouraging people to vote. In the climate we live in right now, does Byfield, as a Black man with a platform, have the responsibility to speak up on similar issues?
“I would hope that as a young Black man that's going to be playing for an American market, that he's going to focus on his craft, but at the same time, pay attention to what's going around in his world,” says Kwame Mason, co-host of the Soul On Ice Podcast. “That's got to be something that comes from within him.”
Zach Stringer, a Haitian Canadian 2021 NHL prospect, was part of a video along with other Black players in the WHL to speak on what Black Lives Matter meant to them. Stringer believes that speaking up should not feel like a responsibility, but something you should do.
“If it is something you believe in, you should want to voice it,”
With Quinton Byfield’s skillset on the ice, he has the potential to be the face of the next generation of Black hockey players. He can inspire them by his play on the ice alone, as the idea of “if you can see it, you can achieve it” can apply here the same way Jarome Iginla did for this generation of Black hockey players. But in a world where more people are using their platforms to inspire change, Byfield has the potential to do the same, and more.
For instance, Muhamad Ali was not only known for his dominance in the sport of boxing, but his courage to stand up for what he believed in. Byfield, too can really inspire change and alter the course of history by taking a stance.
Ultimately, it is up to Byfield to define his legacy and the lasting impact he can have on the sport of hockey.