Amid worldwide discussions on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, a former Kelowna Rockets goaltender took to social media to share his experiences with the racism embedded in the culture of Canadian hockey.
Michael Herringer was a goaltender for the Rockets of the Western Hockey League from 2014 to 2017 before moving to the University of Regina. Born in Haiti, Herringer was adopted at 14 months old by a family in Courtenay, and currently lives in Victoria.
On Friday, June 5, Herringer shared a personal account of the racism he’s experienced in Canadian hockey and broader society in a post to Instagram.
“I’ve held off from saying anything for a bit because I couldn’t really verbalize how I’ve felt through all of this,” begins Herringer’s post.
“I’ve read and seen some pretty terrifying things in the news over the last while that hurts me to my core and shakes my faith in humanity. But at the same time there’s been so much beauty through all of this,” Herringer continues.
The 24-year-old detailed his time growing up as an adopted child in Courtenay, through to his time spent in Major Junior hockey.
“I was the obvious minority everywhere I went,” he states.
”As a young kid I didn’t really understand that people saw me differently. In my mind I was just another kid on the hockey team or another kid in the Grade 2 class photo.”
“I would forget I was the ‘black kid’ until a coach, teammate, classmate or parent would point out how I stood out in a photo, or how it was weird that a black kid liked country music, or they would refer to me as ‘the black kid from Courtenay,’” Herringer says, adding that as a teenager he would brush aside his feelings on such “seemingly harmless remarks” out of fear for how they would be received.
“I didn’t want to be seen as soft or dramatic so I let them go.”
During his time in junior hockey, the comments only got more vitriolic.
“I’d get every kind of racist remark you could imagine from fans almost every time we’d play anywhere other than Kelowna,” he said of his time spent with the Rockets.
Herringer says he grew accustomed to the racist insults, viewing it as part and parcel of being in an opposing team’s building. He heard other, non-racialized insults directed at his other teammates and as far as he knew, the comments he was forced to absorb were “the norm.”
“But there’s something really wrong when a 17-year-old boy while playing the sport he loves is being singled out and openly told by an adult to go back to the plantation or that ‘my people’ know nothing about hockey and I should stick to basketball or cotton picking,” his post continues.
“The worst part is I’d mostly be embarrassed while this was going on, that something completely out of my control was causing a scene, and I’d just hope my coaches or teammates wouldn’t hear so they wouldn’t think any differently of me.”
Now in his 20s, Herringer says he has “tremendous respect” for police officers, but is heartbroken that he still feels compelled to fear them.
“I can’t imagine how I’ll explain to my kids one day that the people whose job it is to keep you safe might want to harm you because of the way you look, through no fault of your own.”
Herringer’s post ends on an optimistic note, despite all the things he’s heard from fans while between the pipes, or the looks of trepidation he still gets while walking down the street.
“I love who I am, I didn’t always, but I wouldn’t change it for the world now.
“It’s time that things change. And not just the smaller things that happen on the daily. This has to be a worldwide effort … I still believe it’s going to happen one day.”