When Columbus Blue Jackets defensemen Seth Jones was traded to Columbus two years ago hardly anyone took notice because the team was in their usual mid-season funk and headed for another year out of the playoffs.
But now the entire city is beginning to jump out of their seats – even African-Americans, a group not often associated as hockey fans because almost all NHLers are white. They’re taking notice because Seth Jones is black and a star-in-the-making. He made the NHL all-star roster this year. Better yet, he embraces the fact he’s an African-American role model in a sport that has slowly warmed to African-Americans. In a way, he’s a pioneer for the 21st century.
“There have been a few African-American kids who have come up to me and said, ‘You’re my favorite player,’ ” said the 22-year-old Jones to the website The Undefeated recently.
Columbus in the past has been labeled a “Black middle-class” capital of the world. Yet many young African-American children have lamented the city lacks a “pro team.” But there is a pro-team and local African-American children are starting to take notice.
“They have my jersey or my T-shirt jersey on,” he told The Undefeated. That’s pretty cool. I am for whatever I can do to grow the game in all aspects. A black kid cheering for hockey or cheering for me is pretty rare. When you see that, you get pretty excited.”
According to The Undefeated, Jones is one of 18 black players on 30 NHL teams. There’s more color on the ice since the days when Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958. Jones by the way has a younger brother, Caleb, who’s on the USA Hockey junior team, which has a record three black players on the roster.
But African-American hockey players have had a racist reception in the recent past. In 2012, during an exhibition game in Canada, a handful of fans threw bananas on the ice that were directed at Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, a black player from Canada.
“I have not faced anything to this point,” said Jones to The Undefeated about any racism. “I know growing up it happened with some players that I knew, but never to me. I don’t know if I’m fortunate or lucky. I try not to put myself in that position to make it happen, but I know it may.”
Jones is the son of former NBA player Ronald “Popeye” Jones, and has a white mother. The parents brought up their sons up to be color blind.
“We very rarely ever discussed race, if ever,” said Jones’ mother, Amy, to The Undefeated. “It was never an issue in our family or with my kids and their friends. People are people. We actually talked more about kids that are less popular or less fortunate, about seeing kids being bullied or not being treated right by other kids and how to always go out of their way to include them and be nice to them. They have never really had to deal with true racism in any way, shape, or form that I can remember. They have been very fortunate.”
In this day and age when racism has reared its ugly head once again, braking barriers and inspiring our youth is what’s needed. Certainly here in Columbus the timing could not be better for Seth Jones and his stardom.