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Why don't black people participate in winter sports?

26 Feb 2006

“So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention … So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin."

That’s Bryant Gumbel speaking about the Winter Olympics on his popular HBO show, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

Well, there were actually a few Black athletes for Canada, the U.S. and many other countries at these Olympics. The most noticeable is Lascelles Brown, a former Jamaican bobsledder who now lives in Calgary and just recently was granted Canadian Citizenship. For the last two seasons he has been part of the Canadian Team and won a silver medal at these Turin games for the two-man bobsled.


Lascelles’ teammate for the four man bobsled is Morgan Alexander a Canadian born in Regina, Saskatchewan who is only 24 and has a long list of accomplishments that includes a bronze medal in last year’s world championships in Calgary and a silver medal in the World Cup in Cortina d’Ampezzo both for the four-man bobsledding. Last but not least of course is the ever popular hockey player Jarome Iginla, a member of Canada ’s Men’s Hockey team. Iginla also made the team in Salt Lake City in 2002 where he led Canada to a Gold Medal, scoring twice in the gold medal game. According to NBC, in 2002 Jarome Iginla “was just the second black athlete to win a gold medal at an Olympic Winter Games (following American Vonetta Flowers who won gold five days earlier in women''s bobsled). You can also catch him during the Hockey season as the Captain of the Calgary Flames leading the team with 44 points (25 goals and 19 assists).

But Bryant Gumbel was right about the fact that there are very few black people at these Olympics. So I wonder, does that mean that as black people we should only watch sporting events include black people such as the NCAA’s March Madness? Should we just stick to the same sports? Why don’t black people participate in the winter sports?


Canadian olympic teammates Lascelles Brown and Pierre Lueders in Turin.


We are not intentionally kept out of the Winter Olympics. I believe we keep ourselves out.  In Canada we have cold winters and snow in most regions and this gives us the opportunity to participate in winter sports.  As a kid I played ice Hockey, maybe because it is an expensive sport, I did not see any other black kids playing it.  I played street hockey as well outside on fall evenings and as I child I didn’t think of it as a white sport or black sport. It was just a fun sport. I know there are not many professional Hockey players who are black but that didn’t and doesn’t stop me from playing for the fun and exercise.

Every winter I try to get my fellow black people outside to participate in various winter sports but I always get the usual “it’s too cold. Black people aren’t meant for this weather”. And sometimes they’re right. It’s too cold.

But, it doesn’t take much to suck it up and go ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square or down by the Harbourfront which is all free unless you rent skates for a marginal fee. And whenever I go, I only see a few black faces and it always puzzles me that black people don’t want to skate or even ski. I skied in Pennsylvania once and I was in awe of all the black families I saw skiing and snow boarding, since of all the time I have skied in Canada, I have always been the odd man out. So maybe it is West Indian people who do not participate in Winter sports.

“Why are you going skiing it’s so cold,” my own mother always says “you know you’re going to hurt yourself out there if your not careful”. But skiing is no more dangerous than football for instance. An older Jamaican man once told me that West Indian parents don’t push their kids into these ports not because of the expense or the cold, but because of their own ignorance of these new sports.  Maybe there is a hidden truth to this. My own mother would have never raised the idea of trying these different sports if my brother didn’t force me to come with him when I was a child.

I applaud the few black Canadian athletes at these Olympic Games. They are paving the way for the other black youth who will hopefully follow them. I encourage anyone to try winter sports, you may actually enjoy them. And as an extra perk, there are scholarships to US colleges not only for basketball and football but also for sports such as skiing and hockey. Brush off the stereotypes that we as black people can’t take the cold and try something new.

I know black youth have always gravitated towards playing basketball for many reasons: it is cheap, it is good exercise and all you need is a ball and a hoop. And of course black people dominate the NBA so there are many great athletes to look up to. But just like Tiger in golf and the Williams’ sisters in Tennis, Black Canadians should look to the future and broaden our sporting horizons into winter sports.

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