The Black History of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo credit:Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Roxanne Khasow
1 year ago
Hey there! It’s February 1st, so do you know what that means? It’s Black History Month! Happy Black History Month, Leafs fans! Now before you get mad… Hear me out, actually read the article, try to understand why this conversation is so important – and should be continued every day of the year, not only in February. I’ve wanted to write this piece for a while, and was really hoping that I would have the chance to write about the first Black Toronto Maple Leafs player to lift the Stanley Cup. But maybe it’ll finally happen this year, who knows. A girl can dream (if you’re listening hockey gods, I’m asking nicely).
Anyways, let’s get into it. Diversity and inclusion is so important in the game of hockey. As a sport that is played by predominately white male athletes, it is critical to show fans and young children that may want to get into the game of hockey, that they can. In Toronto in 2016, 52% of the population belonged to a visible minority. The leading visible minority categories were South Asian (13%), Chinese (11%) and Black (9%). As a young athlete or aspiring fan, it can be difficult to feel like you belong when you don’t see someone that looks like you on the ice.
Out of approximately 977 athletes to ever wear our glorious blue and white, only 8 of those athletes have been Black. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been a part of the NHL for 105 years, and only 8 Black athletes have ever worn our crest. Now if you’re a bit of a stats person, that means that 0.82% of Toronto Maple Leafs players have been Black. If you ask me, that’s quite disappointing. This is why the conversation about inclusion and the imbedded racial issues in hockey need to be part of an ongoing conversation 24/7/365. Now, you might be familiar with one of these Black Toronto Maple Leafs players, but do you know the rest?
Val James
James was the first Black American hockey player to play in the NHL. James is a former left winger who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1977, and played for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1986-1987 NHL season. While James only played four games with the Leafs, he was known for his fighting ability on the ice. James retired in 1988 due to a shoulder injury and taught hockey for 10 years post-retirement. To learn more about James and his story, check out his autobiography Black Ice: The Val James Story.
Grant Fuhr
Fuhr was the first Black hockey player to win the Stanley Cup and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fuhr is a former goaltender who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1981, where he went on to win the Stanley Cup five times. As a six-time All Star, Fuhr is remembered for his ten seasons with the Oilers where he helped lead the team to their first Stanley Cup. In 1991, Fuhr was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he spent half a season before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Fuhr retired in 2000, and eventually joined the Phoenix Coyotes (now known as the Arizona Coyotes) as a goaltending coach in 2004. To learn more about Fuhr and his history in the NHL, check out his biography Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend.
John Craighead
Craighead is a former right winger who went undrafted, but actually played five games for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1996-1997 NHL season. After his career in the NHL, Craighead went on to play hockey in the IHL, DEL, AHL, and EIHL where he retired from the sport in 2005.
Jamal Mayers
Mayers is a former winger who played 15 season in the NHL. Mayers was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1993. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, where he went on to play a total of 115 games with the team. After 15 seasons of play, Mayers won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, and announced his retirement later that same year.
André Deveaux
Deveaux is the first person born in the Bahamas to play in the NHL. He is a former centre that was drafted in 2002 by the Montreal Canadiens. Deveaux later made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, where he played a total of 22 games with the team, and 72 games with the Toronto Marlies. He later played with the New York Rangers and played his last game of hockey in 2019 with the Hamilton Steelhawks of the ACH.
Robbie Earl
Earl is a former forward that was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004. He joined the Toronto Marlies during the 2005-2006 AHL season, where he played 134 games before he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008. Earl played 9 games with the team before he was traded to the Minnesota Wild in 2009. Earl currently plays with the SCL Tigers in the NL.
Mark Fraser
Fraser is a former defenseman that was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2005. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012 where he played 50 games with the Toronto Marlies before making his debut with the Leafs where he went on to play a total of 64 games with the team. Fraser later took his game to Europe where he played for the Schwenninger Wild Wings of the DEL.
Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds is a right winger and NHL All-Star that currently plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007. In 2011, he was traded to Philadelphia Flyers where he spent 7 seasons with the team. Simmonds was and still is known for his physical play on the ice, earning himself the nickname, Wayne Train. He was later traded to the Nashville Predators in 2019 where he was also the NHL’s recipient of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, which is given to a community leader both on and off the ice. Later that year he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, and then the Buffalo Sabres in 2020. Simmonds became a Free Agent in 2020 where he decided that he was going to come back home, and signed a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Simmonds has continuously produced offensively and made a difference whenever he laces up. He is adored on and off the ice by both the team and the fans, and we couldn’t be happier that he is a Toronto Maple Leaf.
And that’s it. Now you know the entire history of the Black players to have ever played with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you somehow lost count, that’s a total of 8 players. In a survey conducted in 2021, Statista found that the level of interest in the NHL was almost the same across various races. 42% of white respondents; 36% of Black respondents; and 48% of Hispanic respondents surveyed in the United States considered themselves an avid or casual fan of the NHL. In 2019, it was reported that 97% of the NHL was white, with the other 3% being made up of different ethnicities. Of this 3%, only 26 players were Black.
Black hockey fans exist. Black hockey staff exist. Black hockey players exist. But when you look in the stands or on the ice, these numbers are not reflected. The NHL has a far way to go until the space and sport is a safe and inclusive game for all. If you’re still reading this, all I ask is that you listen to the Black voices around you. Make sure they are heard. Listen to them and try to learn how you can make a difference. The game of hockey needs changing, and these changes start with us.
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