Evander Kane and the race problem in Winnipeg

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The touchy subject of race has been orbiting Evander Kane's tumultuous relationship with the city of Winnipeg for some time now, occasionally suggested, but rarely ever stated outright. They don't seem to like him in Manitoba's capital city, people observe. Might it have anything to do with the colour of his skin?

But now race has been thrust dead centre into the situation by Kane himself. The Winnipeg Jets' winger recently sat down with The Hockey News for an interview that will be released in full next month. On Wednesday, in hopes of stoking interest in the upcoming issue (to great effect, I'd say), THN editor-in-chief Jason Kay tweeted what is likely to be Kane's most incendiary quote from the chat.

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Kane, on how he's perceived: "I think a good portion of it is because I'm black and I'm not afraid to say that."

And now it's out there. Safe to say it's going to be a little more difficult to keep race at arm's length going forward.

It's not surprising that Kane came right out and said it. Frankly, I felt he was strongly suggesting it when he shaved "YMCMB" -- meaning "Young Money Cash Money Billionaires, a reference to Li'l Wayne's hip hop crew -- into his hair late last month. I'm no mind-reader, but that seemed, to me, like the Vancouver-born forward flaunting his blackness to a local media and fanbase he felt was made uncomfortable by it.

Similarly, I'd say it was the point here. Again, I'm no mind-reader, but Kane's relationship with the city took a turn when he faced a barrage of criticism over the money phone incident. That was such a misunderstood hip hop culture moment, it could easily have been partly misconstrued by Kane as discomfort with blackness. I'd suggest that's when he made up his mind about the root cause of his issues with Winnipeg.

My issue with Kane's statement stems from this misunderstanding. Many in Winnipeg do indeed have a genuine discomfort with him, but it's not fair to say it's specifically because he's black. Winnipeg is home to a professional football team, the CFL's Blue Bombers, which has a great many black players with whom no one at the Winnipeg Sun seems particularly ill at ease.

It's not Kane's blackness that's causing the issue. Not at its core.

I do believe the issue is related to it, however. I've said this before, but Kane has a swagger that's common among football and basketball players. "Swagger" is to these two sports as "team toughness" is to hockey -- a relatively intangible quality that, when present on a winning team, is uniformly pointed to as the reason they're a winning team. (Google "Lakers" and "swagger" and you'll find untold articles citing their lack of it as the reason they're struggling.)

In hockey's somewhat less hip hop influenced circles, however, swagger is seen as a liability, immaturity, a shortfall of humility, a lack of team-playerness. P.K. Subban suffers from this false impression as well.

It is a false impression, and it's time for hockey culture to expand beyond these judgments. Hockey culture has developed a standard hockey player template that is dangerously unwelcoming to the other, be it non-whites, European, the non-heteronormative, women, and all sorts of other categories.

Kane's swagger puts him outside that template, and it's Winnipeg's discomfort with that, not his skin colour, that's causing the issue here.

That said, it's not as though Kane isn't somewhat complicit. Go around suggesting "I'm black and I'm rich" and you're bound to get some blowback, and not just from stuffy old white men.

While swagger doesn't automatically equal immaturity, Kane's defiance and bravado in the face of this maelstrom does, to an extent. So does using Li'l Wayne as a life model. So does stirring the hornet's nest, as he did with the YMCMB haircut-trolling, and, to some extent, this comment to The Hockey News. Of course he's not afraid to say it. He's a defiant 21-year-old. He's not opening this can of worms in the spirit of friendly debate.

So yes, Kane is correct. A good portion of his issue with the city of Winnipeg is, in a roundabout way, because he's black. And if his call-out leads to a re-evaluation of what we expect our hockey players to be like, then good. He's being treated unfairly for failing to line up with an outdated standard.

But at the same time, Kane invites a lot of criticism on himself by being immature, and it's a lot harder to erode stereotypes when you're propagating them.

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