I must admit I like this move by the National Hockey League very much.
On Monday the league announced that they would be recognizing and honoring former member of the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs Val James for his contributions to the sport of professional hockey. James is widely recognized as having been the first Black American player to ever play in the league, an achievement that in 1981 was considerably more noteworthy than it would be today.
Although James did not have an extensive career in the NHL, he only played 7 games with the Sabres and 4 with the Maple Leafs, the fact that he played at all in those times was an achievement in its own right. James was not some highly touted prospect either, having been drafted in the 16th round (184th overall) of the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft. Outside of the NHL he would go on to have a stellar career in the American Hockey League, playing out most of his career with the Rochester Americans but also making stops with the St. Catharines Saints, Newmarket Saints and Baltimore skipjacks.
National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement via the league's official website:
"He became the first Black American player in the NHL and a powerful role model for Black children in the United States to see themselves reflected in hockey," Bettman said. "The NHL joins the Sabres in acknowledging Val's historic achievement and his contributions to ensuring hockey is indeed for everyone."
The fact that the league will be marking this day in James' honor is rather fitting given that the man has had his own little personal celebration going for years now. James confirmed that he usually marked the anniversary of his achievement at home with his wife, but of course he seems very honored and humbled by the recognition he is now receiving from the league at large.
"I feel very humbled," James said. "I'm very honored at the fact that they wanted to actually play it up a little bit more than they have in previous years. It also gives me a little bit more of a footprint in the sport of hockey as a person of color."
A well deserved honor, and one that we hope leads to many more fans showing James the appreciation and respect he rightfully has earned.