But Brisson reacted emphatically to a recent report that Roc Nation Sports, headed by rap artist Jay-Z, would meet with Jones’s family and Brisson of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) at the draft and try to woo Jones for marketing.
Jay-Z has already signed baseball star Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees and basketball star Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Brisson said that while Jay-Z has a partnership agreement with CAA and will be given a hearing “at the appropriate time,” nothing is promised regarding Jay-Z representing Jones.
“Absolutely, I just want to clarify that,” Brisson said in a telephone interview.
When Brisson’s office set up a telephone interview with Jones last week, it was specifically requested that Jones not be asked about Jay-Z, an aggressive and multidimensional force in African-American entertainment.
Both Jones and Brisson said Jones has sensed no racism in hockey, although he learned something of the past by watching the film 42 about Jackie Robinson and by talking with O’Ree. They met in Boston at the Stanley Cup final; Nurse was there, too.
“I thought it was a great movie,” Jones said. “Obviously, I didn’t grow up in that time and the kind of thing that he went through. Similar to Willie [O’Ree].”
Hockey is not without tribal attitudes and ethnic stereotypes. O’Ree remembers when black skaters were thought to have weak ankles. In a more serious vein, he remembers fans in American cities treating him worse than in Canada, telling him to go South and pick cotton.
There were no more black players in the NHL until 1974, when Mike Marson and Billy Riley joined the Washington Capitals. Since then, there have been occasional racist incidents as black participation has grown.
A serious episode came in 1997-98 when Chris Simon of Washington used a racial slur against Mike Grier of Edmonton. Simon is an Ojibway native. “That’s what was strange to me,” Grier said at the time. “This was someone who has his background and his race.”
Simon flew to Toronto to apologize to Grier and was suspended for three games. In an exhibition game in September of 2011, a fan in London, Ont., threw a banana at Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, Simmonds said: “It’s something I obviously have to deal with, being a black player playing in a predominantly white sport.”
Of course, no one culture or country dominates any sport, as Canada learned in 1972 when it barely beat the Soviet Union 4-3-1 in the Summit Series. That historical triumph came a quarter-century after Robinson integrated the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 after playing the season before with the Montreal Royals.
In the next couple of decades, baseball was dominated by black superstars like Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and Hank Aaron. But the sport faces a minor crisis now as black American kids drift into other sports.
Years ago, if there were two Latin-American players on a baseball team, they were discouraged from conversing in their own language in the clubhouse. Now, the room’s banter and song lyrics are likely to be in Spanish, overheard but not always understood by white players, black players and an increasing number of Asian teammates.
And sometimes the shift of undercurrents in a sports culture can show up in unexpected places, like television commercials. A current TV ad for Powerade sports drink shows various (and anonymous) young athletes who achieve beyond the expectations of others.
The commercial shows football, basketball, wrestling and hockey. No surprise there, except the hockey player is black. “In the wrong sport?” he says to the camera in a challenging tone of voice.
The young man has no further speaking lines, but camera cuts show him throwing a hard body check and scoring a goal, the last scene in the commercial. Perhaps through market research and focus groups, the ad people have seen the future and it looks like Jones, who came of age in the era of Barack Obama and Tiger Woods.
“Maybe the world’s changing,” Jones said.
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