The Sunday Magazine26:07Why Akim Aliu doesn’t shrink back from hockey’s harsh realities in new graphic memoir for youths
Hockey hasn’t at all times been variety to former skilled participant Akim Aliu, however he beloved the sport an excessive amount of to give up.
“I had a lot love for the sport … that I did not let any of these different issues trouble me,” he instructed The Sunday Magazine’s Piya Chattopadhyay.
For Aliu, these “different issues” included coping with racism and going through the implications when he spoke up concerning the remedy — which bought him labelled a “troublesome” participant. Among his challenges, he fought an Ontario Hockey League teammate in response to extreme hazing that he refused to take part in and confronted racial slurs from considered one of his personal coaches.
Aliu, who was born in Nigeria and spent his early years in Ukraine, had an expert profession that spanned 12 years and included stints within the United States, Sweden and with the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
Now 33, he needs to encourage the following technology of hockey gamers, whereas additionally getting ready them for some social points they could confront alongside the way in which.
Aliu’s new graphic memoir, Dreamer, which will get its title from his nickname as a toddler, illustrates his relationship with hockey — from the highs of scoring to the lows of intolerance.
The e-book, for kids aged eight to 12, was co-authored by Greg Anderson Elysée, and illustrated by Marcus Williams and Karen De la Vega. It was launched on Feb. 7.
“I would like children to know that, hey, you are going to cope with trials and tribulations, nevertheless it should not deter you to get to the place you need to be,” Aliu stated.
Playing hockey introduced challenges
Like many younger immigrants in Canada, Aliu skilled obstacles to enjoying hockey after the household moved to Toronto in 1997. Along with not with the ability to converse English, he confronted the price of new hockey tools and cultural limitations.
For Aliu, whose father is Nigerian and mom is Ukrainian, enjoying hockey meant carrying second-hand tools and coping with the view on the time that “hockey is for white folks.”
But with the encouragement of his mother and father — who Aliu stated taught him to talk up when he noticed injustice — he stored on skating.
Aliu is pictured right here when he performed for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves from 2005-07, after being traded by the Windsor Spitfires. He scored 27 targets and recorded 55 factors in a single and a half seasons, together with a 20-goal season in 2006-07. (Gino Donato/Sudbury Star/The Canadian Press)
“I used to be on the ice and I used to be having fun with myself, and I knew that I had the chance to do one thing particular with it if I devoted myself to it.”
One of Aliu’s most troublesome trials got here by the hands of considered one of his teammates.
In his rookie OHL season, Aliu was cross-checked by Windsor Spitfires teammate Steve Downie throughout a observe session, and the 2 then fought.
The 2005 incident stemmed from Aliu’s refusal to take part in a hazing ritual that might have compelled him and different rookies to face bare in a cramped bus washroom.
“That’s a ritual to evolve you to a workforce, and basically it makes you a part of the workforce. It simply by no means made any sense,” he stated. “I do not assume any mother or dad needs to see their child stripped down … bare and being peed on.”
Downie was suspended for 5 video games, Aliu was suspended for one recreation and the Spitfires have been fined $35,000. The league additionally suspended coach Moe Mantha.
Aliu is proven carrying No. 29 with the Calgary Flames in 2013. Now 33, he needs to encourage the following technology of hockey gamers, whereas additionally getting ready them for some social points they could confront alongside the way in which. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)
OHL commissioner David Branch stated on the time that the league has “zero tolerance in opposition to hazing,” and referred to as what transpired “dishonourable and prejudicial.”
“The league and its members are dedicated to offering an setting the place every participant becoming a member of the league is welcomed in an expert and dignified method,” he stated in a assertion.
Aliu was traded to the Sudbury Wolves shortly after. There, he scored 27 targets and recorded 55 factors in a single and a half seasons, together with a 20-goal season in 2006-07.
Despite his success on the ice, Aliu stated as a result of hockey is such an “outdated boy’s membership,” he was nonetheless made out to be the villain — and that “snowballed into folks portray this image of me being a child that is troublesome to cope with,” he stated.
“I used to be a primary spherical [OHL draft] decide, [but] I by no means performed on any Team Canadas,” stated Aliu, who was picked within the second spherical of the 2007 NHL draft. “[I] did not make it to any all-star video games, despite the fact that I used to be one of many high scorers within the OHL.”
He added, “As I become older and perceive and mirror on what’s occurred, I feel that there’s unconscious biases and actually outward racism in these areas.”
Striving to enhance range
Aliu’s NHL profession lasted simply seven video games — and his final look got here practically a decade in the past. But he is left an impression on hockey in one other method: by co-founding the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) in June 2020, a company he co-heads with Evander Kane, who at the moment performs for the Edmonton Oilers.
The group’s aim is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. It operates independently from the NHL however goals to work alongside the league and organizational our bodies like Hockey Canada to make the game extra accessible and inclusive.
“One a part of it’s morally, that I feel doing what’s proper and getting children from these underserved communities on the ice that might have by no means had a possibility to play and fully change the trajectory of their life,” Aliu stated.
“That’s why I’m so keen about this, as a result of myself and different members of the HDA, we have been these children. And with out assist at a sure time, a specific time in our life, we would not be the place we’re as we speak.”
Aliu, who co-founded the Hockey Diversity Alliance, works with youngsters throughout a ball hockey abilities program on the Malvern Recreation Centre in Toronto. The group’s aim is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. (Kasumi Kobo/The Associated Press)
Last August, the alliance proposed a set of actions for the NHL to take to sort out racism, together with necessary anti-racism coaching for all league workers and hiring extra Black executives.
But by October, the group had reduce formal ties with the league, due partially to the NHL being “performative of their actions,” in line with Aliu.
“They say all the precise issues, however they’re extra involved with catering to their present base, that being middle-aged white males,” he stated. “When it is time to do the work, there’s at all times a motive of why we won’t do it.”
Aliu stated that is why the NHL lags behind different main North American sports activities leagues on the subject of selling the sport outdoors of their conventional viewers — and why an entire overhaul in management is required from the highest down.
“I might by no means perceive why a league that we have prayed to play in and dreamed to play in wouldn’t need to assist its present and former gamers to try this,” he added.
The NHL didn’t reply to a request for remark from The Sunday Magazine.
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Despite the obstacles Aliu has confronted as a consequence of his race, he thinks it is value combating for the following technology of hockey gamers.
“I’m combating for the following Akim Aliu, I’m combating for the following Wayne Simmonds,” he stated. “I’m combating for the following Black child arising within the recreation that does not really feel that he belongs.”
For extra tales concerning the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success tales inside the Black group — take a look at Being Black in Canada, a CBC venture Black Canadians will be pleased with. You can learn extra tales right here.
Produced by Andrea Hoang.