Queen’s Black student athletes address race in sport

Jaden Lindo, Jaren Burke, and Rachel Hickson share their experiences and hopes for the future 

Left to right: Rachel Hickson of women's rugby, Jaden Lindo of men's hockey, and Jaren Burke also of men's hockey. 

One might think that having parents who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, hated the cold, and didn’t know how to skate would make hockey an unlikely sporting choice for their son.

But why not?

From the moment Jaden Lindo started seeing hockey on TV as a kid, he knew it was a sport he wanted to play. His dad enrolled him in skating lessons, and his love for the game only grew from there. When it came time to choose between fully committing to soccer or hockey, he set aside his cleats in favour of skates.

Lindo has no regrets about the decision, and for good reason. The fourth-year went on to play in the OHL for the Owen Sound Attack and the Sarnia Sting before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round of the 2014 National Hockey League (NHL) draft. 

Lindo’s passion spread throughout his family, even converting his mom, who was at first reluctant at the prospect of sitting in a frigid arena to watch her son play one of the roughest sports around.

“Now sometimes I come home and my mom’s watching it on the TV, like the Leafs and stuff, not that she knows anyone that’s playing but she just likes the game. Now it’s just become a part of her and same with my dad, they just love the game,” the Brampton, Ontario native told The Journal.

Although hockey is marketed as a game for everyone, it may not be perceived that way for many minority athletes. Currently, 97 per cent of NHL players are white, which is a dominant barrier for BIPOC athletes to conquer, according to Lindo.

“Especially like when you’re a kid and you’re looking up to be inspired by guys that are playing in the NHL, like for me there wasn’t many Black athletes. […] There aren’t many people to look up to and that kind of sets a bit of a challenge for you, because you know how rare it is,” Lindo said.

Lindo noted the lack of diversity on most of his teams throughout his career, often being one of the only Black players on the ice. 

“It’s tough at times obviously, because when something happens, or you feel like you’re discriminated against on the ice or any kind of situation, there’s no one really else on the team that understands or knows what it feels like,” he said.

“You kind of feel like you’re on an island out there,” the forward said. “Your teammates are always there for you, or you hope that they’re always there for you, but it’s obviously different when you can’t relate to the scenario.”

Despite having a low representation in the NHL, Black players have made significant contributions to the game. Recently, Lindo was featured on Soul on Ice, a movie about Black players’ experiences and contributions to the sport, which also covered NHL stars Wayne Simmons and Georges Laraque.

Lindo also participated in the Roundtable on Racism in Hockey, which was hosted at Queen’s last year, and explored how discrimination can be better prevented in hockey. 

Jaren Burke, Lindo’s teammate on the Queen’s men’s hockey team, also discussed the challenges arising from a lack of diversity on his teams. The fourth-year forward believes this has contributed both positively and negatively to his experience.

“From a positive perspective, I think it kind of helps you push through some of that adversity when people might not understand why you’re frustrated or you know, you might have to deal with a couple different experiences that I think made me a better person and hockey player,” Burke said.

“From like a negative side, yeah, you don’t have someone there who’s going through the same experiences as you. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re being treated a certain way based on your play or based on some different factors.” 

Burke said there have been instances, however, where racism is unmistakable.

“I’ve had experiences where it has been overt and I’ve had teammates that have called me the N-word, or I’ve had teammates be like ‘why aren’t you playing basketball?’”

Burke said these incidents have been rare, but they’re common enough to affect nearly every Black hockey player. 

“Stuff like that has happened, but fortunately I’ve had a lot more positive experiences playing hockey,” he said. 

“Fortunately I haven’t had like a ton of mistreatment, it has happened to me, absolutely, just like I think it’s happened to every Black hockey player. I’m fortunate to play for Queen’s and Coach [Brett] Gibson who treats me and Jaden just like every other player on the team.”

The Journal also spoke with Rachel Hickson, a fourth-year wing on the women’s rugby team. Unlike Burke and Lindo, Hickson was a late bloomer for her sport, playing rugby for the first time in her final year of high school. 

The fourth-year engineering student hit the pace of the game in phenomenal stride; she led the team in points in only her second season and was a pivotal member in the Gaels’ OUA Gold and U Sports silver medals this past season.

Hickson said she’s enjoyed an inclusive atmosphere in her time on the rugby team, but being one of the few minority female athletes can create a lack of awareness and place undue pressure on minority athletes to be spokespeople for their entire demographic.

“Everyone learns from an environment where there is more diversity, and understanding that not a single black voice, not my experiences, not who I am—that does not represent all Black opinions [...] And that’s a big challenge that you face coming to an environment like this, is permanently being the one everyone looks to for those answers.”

In 2019-20, the women’s rugby team was the only female varsity team at Queen’s that had any Black athletes.  

“As someone coming to Queen’s, you understand the situation that you’re putting yourself in. […] However, I’m very thankful for the support I’ve had from leadership and my teammates, because my team is awesome and I love them,” she said. 

“That doesn’t mean that they can’t be better and that I can’t be better and that we all shouldn’t be doing more to reach out when there’s issues at hand, whether it’s about race or about another minority group or any sort of difference that arises between people.”

Hickson, along with Burke and Lindo, all agreed that positive steps could be taken to raise awareness within Canadian athletics that Black athletes face unique experiences and challenges, along with increasing the dialogue about race-related issues.

“I think that the University is very receptive right now. Those are conversations that I’m starting to have with certain individuals, and it’s definitely something that they’re aware of,” Hickson said.

Hickson responded with cautious optimism on whether she expects to see real change occur within sports and at Queen’s in the near future. 

“I wouldn’t say I expect—I hope. I hope to see positive change from this, but I don’t expect it in the sense the sense of something that’s just going to happen. […] There’s a lot more work to be done, and it’s a very long road to making those changes happen,” Hickson said. 

“I think right now there’s a lot of opportunity for that, and there are people trying to do that in different ways and a lot of different places.”

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