BY WILLIAM DOUGLAS
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU/TNS
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Anson Carter expects to surprise some casual sports fans who tune into the 2018 Winter Olympics for ice hockey.
“You might not watch the whole game, but you might see what’s happening between periods, and then you see a Black face on TV talking about the game, giving some insightful analysis on what’s going on,” Carter said.
The 2018 Winter Games, which officially began Friday, will have the largest contingent of Black athletes in its history, helping to debunk the stereotype that Blacks don’t participate in so-called non-traditional winter sports.
The games will also feature diversity on the air.
NBC’s Mike Tirico makes his debut as the prime time face of the Winter Games, succeeding Bob Costas, who had hosted the networks’ Olympic prime time coverage since 1992.
Carter, a Canadian who played 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, will analyze hockey games played in Pyeongchang from NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Connecticut.
Although he’s known to regular hockey viewers from his NHL and college hockey coverage on NBC Sports Network and “The MSG Hockey Show” in New York, Carter realizes that he might seem like an unconventional choice to those who only pay attention to the sport during the Olympics.
“I want to make sure I’m bringing my ‘A’ game to the table because it is all about diversity,” he said. “You can’t talk about being diverse on the ice but then off the ice you don’t have the diversity as well when you have people capable of doing the job just like anybody else.”
Carter said he’s aware that a perception that Black people know or care little about hockey.
That perception was recently reinforced by a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Chance the Rapper played a New York Knicks basketball sideline reporter hopelessly trying to analyze a New York Rangers hockey game.
“Let’s do that hockey!” Chance the Rapper said in the skit that went viral on social media.
Some know hockey
The parody hit Carter’s funny bone, but then it quickly hit home.
“I loved it, I thought it was funny,” Carter said. “But at the same time, there are enough Black people out there who know the game of hockey that you’re like, ‘Can we actually move past this point?’ There’s a lot more knowledgeable Black fans out there than we get credit for.’”
Carter knows hockey from experience. He tallied 202 goals and 219 assists in 674 games over 11 seasons with the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes.
Now he’s part of a small but growing group of Black hockey analysts and broadcasters on national and local airwaves.
Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goaltender, mans the analyst’s desk on the NHL Network while David Amber co-hosts the late Saturday game on “Hockey Night in Canada,” that nation’s equivalent of “Monday Night Football” in terms of viewer popularity.
Tarik El-Bashir provides sideline and studio insights during Capitals broadcasts, where he’s sometimes joined by Carter. Everett Fitzhugh is the voice of the minor league Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL.
‘It takes time’
Carter hopes his Winter Olympics work and the participation of 10 African Americans on the U.S. team along with Black athletes from Jamaica, Nigeria, Ghana and other nations will help put the myth about Blacks and winter sports to rest.
While some hail the increased presence of Black athletes at the Winter Games as a milestone, they also caution that the numbers are still small since that more than 2,900 athletes are competing in Pyeongchang.
“As the percentage of the total team, I would think that’s still, as they would say in a university setting or research setting, statistically insignificant,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
“You’ve got to start somewhere, right?” he said. “You can’t all of sudden jump in and be a majority. It takes time.”