Minna No Hockey: Why representation matters

The story of how one Nashville Predators player made representation and inclusion hit home for a 36 year old beat writer.

Minna No Hockey: Why representation matters
Nashville Predators forward Kiefer Sherwood addresses the media after defeating the Detroit Red Wings | Photo Credit: Bryan Bastin

Author’s note:  I also spoke on this subject in last night’s video from the Renegades of Puck if you’d prefer to listen.

There’s not much good to say about that game we just watched, a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers, so instead of recapping the game or talking about stats, I want to do something a little different.

Today, I’m going to tell you a story about me.  I promise it’s not just me telling a story about myself – there’s a point to all of it.

Last Tuesday night, after the Nashville Predators had defeated the Red Wings, I got to speak with several Nashville players in the locker room, but one stuck out to me more than most. I was standing there, microphone in hand, talking to Kiefer Sherwood, and something kept sticking in my head. What was it about Sherwood that seemed different?

And then I remembered something I’d learned about him earlier this season and it all clicked.

Kiefer Sherwood is half-Japanese. And outside from his hair being much better than mine, being a few inches taller and much better at everything sports-related than me, I was struck with a feeling I’d never had in nearly four years of covering the NHL: I was talking to a player that was just like me.

My father – as well as my uncle – were both born in Japan and placed in an orphanage very early in their lives, and my grandparents adopted them. They were stationed in Japan as part of the US Navy, and after a short stint in the Pacific, they eventually moved back to West Tennessee, where all of my family comes from, and where my dad grew up.

I’ll be honest with you: yes, technically, I am a minority, but I feel pretty privileged when I say I’ve never once faced any prejudice about it. While yes, part of it is because most people look at me with a slightly confused look on their faces and the bolder ones will actually ask “So…. what are you?” because they don’t know what my ethnicity is, but I can’t say that once in my life have I been held back from something because of it.

So why I am telling you this story? A couple reasons, but it’s me, so let’s start with a stat: 31.

That’s the number of Asian-American players that have played a game in the National Hockey League. From Larry Kwong, who was the very first and deserves to be in the NHL Hall of Fame, all the way to Sherwood, there are more teams in the NHL than players who look like me that have ever played a game in it. Paul Kariya holds a special place in most hockey fans’ hearts, of course, but it’s always been a dream of mine to meet him for the reason I’ve been talking about tonight.

Again, you’re still probably wondering why I’m telling this story.

Representation matters.

Not just to future generations, or marginalized groups, but to a 36-year-old beat writer with two kids who has lived a pretty blessed life. There’s nothing I can say to explain what it meant to me when I spoke with Kiefer that night, nor when I talked to him after practice the next day about this very topic. Part of it is hope. Hope that one day that number will be much larger than 31. And yes, I don’t harbor any illusions of “if Sherwood is in the NHL, so could I!”, but until that moment, it was the first time in 36 years that I got to see a professional player on my favorite team whose background was just like mine.

Everybody should get to experience that feeling. Everyone. Without exception.

Again, I’m incredibly lucky that I get to speak to these guys after every home game, but even the fans in the stands can feel a kinship with the greatest sport on earth if there’s a player out on the ice that reflects who they are as a person.

I’m not going to say anymore about James Reimer and the Sharks or any of the similar events this season. If you’re reading this, chances are you already know my thoughts on it. But situations like that are why this matters. There are half-Japanese hockey fans. There are female hockey fans. There are fans of hockey who are veterans. There are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer hockey fans out there. And every single one of them deserves to feel the way I felt standing in that locker room. They deserve to watch a game that doesn’t actively push them away. They deserve a place to belong. Because sports has done one thing since they were invented: bring people together around a common interest.

If you disagree with me on this, well, there’s nothing I can do about it. But it’s my hope that there are far more of you that agree with me than not.

I want to close this out by saying something directly to you, readers. Since day 1 of working with Charlie and the Renegades of Puck, I have felt welcome and supported.  Same with the staff at On The Forecheck. I have been welcomed into the Predators press corps, despite being a hockey writer with no journalism training.

I want you all to live your lives to help others feel the same way. Reach out to someone, and welcome them to the game of hockey. Show them the love and passion that you have for this game and allow them to experience it too. I don’t care what color, orientation or other status they may identify as, because we’re all human beings. Readers, I challenge you to be welcoming to all who come across your path. Because you never know when something simple like a routine post-game interview could turn into something that means so much to a person – in this case me.

Hockey has been the reason I’ve met so many of the wonderful people in my life. Hockey is a place I felt welcome in some of the darkest hours of my life. I was suffering from severe depression back in 2020, and hockey was the lifeline I held on to because I loved the sport, and I was surrounded by a loving community who welcomed me in. And everybody in the world deserves that same feeling.

Thank you all, readers, for taking time out to read this. It’s easy to feel anger, disappointment, or any other negative emotion at the state of the NHL right now, but there is always room for love, happiness, and inclusion no matter what happens on the ice. Hockey brings people together and I challenge you to be part of that positive force that welcomes people in without telling them they don’t belong. Because even though some people say it and likely don’t mean it, hockey truly is for everyone. And I refuse to believe otherwise.