Evander Kane’s career has been one of dizzying highs and lows.
After being drafted fourth overall in 2009 by the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, Kane went on to play for the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabers, San Jose Sharks, and He returned to the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday lineup After a bizarre on-ice injury on November 8 when a skate blade slashed his wrist. Along with his hockey accomplishments, including multiple 30-goal seasons, Kane co-founded the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which aims to eliminate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey.
But along the way, Kane encounters multiple challenges and less than desirable narratives. Rumors that he was a lousy teammate followed him during the early years of his career. Recently, his messy and public divorce saw Kane’s ex-wife accuse him of domestic violence, gambling on and throwing NHL games. While Kane admitted to having a gambling problem for which he sought help, accusations of throwing games as well as domestic violence were found to be unfounded after a league investigation.
When Kane returned to superstar Connor McDavid to the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup, he opened up to Andscape about the risks inherent in playing professional sports, supporting McDavid through a difficult period in his life, the troubling narrative of black hockey players, and why he stepped in. From the Hockey Diversity Alliance, the organization he helped found.
As we’ve seen recently with your injury and what happened to Damar Hamlin, there are risks inherent to playing professional sports. Before your injury, was that something you thought about when you went out on the ice? Now that you are back after the injury, how conscious will you be of it?
The kind of injury you had, you never thought about that as a player. Coming into the game in Tampa, there are 10,000 other things I think will happen before something like this. It is rare. At the same time, you understand the risks as a professional athlete, especially as a hockey player. We have a lot of dangerous items. We’re on the ice surface at high speed, and at the same time, you’re wearing knives at the bottom of your feet, and you’ve got sticks and pucks. It’s a dangerous sport, but things like this happen, but you rarely think about them.
Throughout your career, you’ve been very polarizing. How much do you think this has to do with being a black athlete in a predominantly white sport?
It is displayed differently. I’m a half black and white hockey player and I play with an edge; I can score, fight and hit. I don’t shy away from the spotlight. There are some things any human being would like to have private, but when you’re a professional athlete you don’t get that luxury, letting the public have their own opinion of you. Unfortunately, the media covering our sport has faced many of the same problems the game has faced over the years. The stories and opinions are what you would expect from a predominantly white media in a mostly white sport. And when you talk about people of color in hockey media, a lot of them have been whitewashed. And I don’t hate the media. There are many good people in the media, but you see how certain people are treated differently.
Early in your career, you weren’t afraid to let your personality shine through, giving interviews, or being on social media. During that early career period, do you remember if there was a lot of involvement from the NHL to take advantage of the fact that you wanted to be up front?
Hockey has always been a reserved sport. We must do a much better job of promoting our athletes as leagues. It’s not just the league, it’s the players as well. Guys have to put themselves out there. Sit in front of the camera and open their mouths to display themselves. We don’t have many guys who enjoy doing that kind of thing. On the one hand, I can count on guys who are good at it. When you look at many of the players the NHL is trying to promote and use as the faces of the league, they’re some of the most quiet and reserved.
Before signing with the Oilers, there was a press conference with Connor McDavid where the media was trying to get him to pile on the narrative that was going around at the time about you being a bad teammate that players’ teams shouldn’t be dealing with, and he didn’t. Instead, he said that you are “a great player” and have had great success in the league. He talked me into playing Connor McDavid and making him a teammate.
He is the best player ever to play the game. I felt like the media had loaded me with this hit piece and tried to get everyone to denounce and cancel me without knowing the facts. And almost a year later now, it’s funny how things have changed. For Connor, he showed that he wasn’t a follower. He’s a leader. We have a lot of followers in the community and a lot of followers in our game. It was refreshing to see that kind of leadership. When I looked at the landscapes I could go to at the time, his comments meant a lot to me.
Hockey and the National Hockey League have dealt with many racist incidents. Recently, there was an issue with the Boston Bruins signing Mitchell Miller, which I backed out. Why do you think hockey and the National Hockey League still struggle with this so much? And how do we really make some meaningful progress here?
Good question. When I helped create HDA, I started a way to make a real difference to hockey. It wasn’t built around trying to be a group calling out to the people or wanting to act against the NHL. I spoke to Gary Bateman at the time, we had some good conversations and we could never agree on how to proceed.
When it came to HDA, I took a step back because I was getting personal. At the same time, I felt that there were members of the group, not Akeem Aliu, who didn’t want me to participate in HDA anymore. I think it was because of my perception, and they were buying these novels, and they were players of color. These are colorful players, in the NHL there are very few of them, and if anything, when your brother goes down, you’ll think you’ll have his back more. It’s hard to put your all into a group you helped found, and then have them turn their backs on you at such a critical time in your footballing career. I am no longer very involved with HDA. This was my choice. But in terms of developing the game and making it more diverse, part of it is trying to incorporate different cultures and brands, and it can be something as small as fashion.
In terms of fashion, what is your stance on team dress codes across the NHL? A handful of teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs have loosened it up.
Part of it is if we lift the dress code, players take it upon themselves to keep the dress code intact. I remember when the league was on the bubble, and most teams didn’t have a dress code. I remember, I won’t name the team, but there was a team where they all said we were going to wear khakis and a golf shirt. Finally we get what we want. When the Players Association does its surveys, not everyone wants a dress code, then we go back to what we were told to do. It’s as if no one can think for themselves.
Over the years, you and players like Nazem Kadri and Akim Aliu, both HDA members, have been described as tough by the media. Do you think this is intentional for this label to be placed on BIPOC players, or is it just a coincidence?
It’s not a strange coincidence. If you look at my first two years in Atlanta, there were no problems. I’m having a great time. I love the city. And then the team was sold to Winnipeg. Same team, very different city. And I keep talking, and there are rumors that I miss restaurant bills. It looks so silly. And people find all sorts of excuses to say I’m a bad teammate because I have YMCMB chops in the back of my head. It was my character at the time. I’m a little kid. I enjoy myself. She asked to leave Winnipeg forever. The media has relationships with certain employees, and they have posted what they are asked to put out there. And then you don’t see me just leaving Winnipeg as a young player, but you see Patrick Lane being kicked out of town. Then I go to Buffalo. And in Buffalo, there were no problems. We just sucked.
Why do you think so much of hockey’s marketing is rooted in tradition?
Part of it is the people who play hockey. I hope the NHL knows who they can go to. Why not me? Perhaps it’s because there isn’t enough time between the Thiranti-Narrative. I see how they promote, and it makes no sense to look at him from the outside, not even as a hockey player. I was in an elevator at the ESPYs, and a lady was like, “Oh, are you athletic?” And she says, “Let me guess, basketball?” And I said no. ‘football?’ No, baseball? No. “MLS player?” I said no, and I was thinking, Oh holy. Guess what was her next guess?
You are on the right track. cricket. Yes, cricket before hockey gets into her mind, and that shouldn’t happen.
When your NHL career ends, how do you want to be remembered as a hockey player?
My performance on the ice speaks for itself. But at the same time, I don’t think much about it. I plan to play for another eight or nine years. I love hockey, and I want to see it get better than it already is. And whether that is involved off the ice in some capacity, there are many things I can offer to help develop the game and a lot of knowledge based on the experiences I’ve had. When you go through different experiences, good, bad or ugly, you learn, and they give you knowledge and experience, which are good things to have.