Kenan Thompson hosts NHL Awards show that doesn’t shy away from inclusion From the opening monologue to the Willie O’Ree Award winner, it was a big night for hockey

LAS VEGAS — When news was first announced that Kenan Thompson would be hosting the 2019 NHL Awards, it seemed a little too good to be true. The man whom one recent publication surprisingly called “underrated” would be coming to the stage to entertain the hockey world, something he’d been doing since he first appeared in The Mighty Ducks movie trilogy, a series that for many people is their lone avenue into or reference point to the sport, quite frankly.

There was a part of me that was hoping this event could serve as a yet another milestone moment that breaks down the psychological barrier that many still have between blackness and pucks. And while this night wasn’t exactly that from a comedy standpoint, there were a few moments that helped the cause overall.

The monologue was effective, but didn’t stray too far into deep water.

“Welcome to the 2019 NHL Awards. I will be your host this evening and, for the last time, no, I am not one of the Subbans.

“My name is Keenan Thompson. You might recognize me from SNL, All That, Kenan and Kel. … But, let’s be real! You don’t. This is a hockey room. So you only know me as the kid from The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3!”

“You know, I can’t really decide if my favorite player is Ryan Reaves or … I don’t know. Man, I don’t know, maybe even Malcolm Subban, you know, from the Golden Knights. I just … Hey, I don’t know. I feel a strong connection to the two of them. I don’t really know what it is. I can’t put my, can’t put my finger on it.”

See, that’s funny because Ryan Reaves and Malcolm Subban are both black and both play in Las Vegas. I’m still sort of wondering where that joke would have gone had those roster spots not been what they were, but who cares. Point is, that was about the extent of Thompson’s routine about being black in the hockey world, which in truth, is all that was needed because the realities are certainly still harsh enough to not make light of the subject.

Throughout the night, the league highlighted the nominees for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given to “an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” It’s named after the NHL’s first black player, Willie O’Ree, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

Willie O’Ree arrives at the 2019 NHL Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19 in Las Vegas.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By sprinkling in vignettes of the nominees’ stories, the theme stayed top of mind during the broadcast that this is an enduring battle. So between Thompson appearing as Steve Harvey, LaVar Ball, Charles Barkley and some weird mad scientist character with white hair, you couldn’t lose track of the fact that diversity existed beyond Thompson’s well-known Saturday Night Live go-tos.

There was Anthony Benavides, who runs the Clark Park Coalition, which launched a youth hockey program in Detroit for black and Latino kids, after rebuilding an outdoor rink with the help of his community. Another nominee was Tammi Lynch, the mother of a hockey player, whose teammate, who is black, was racially taunted during a recent game. She didn’t just fight back, she formed an entire movement called Players Against Hate, which aims to educate everyone about racism on the ice.

The inclusionary theme wasn’t just about black folks. Robin Lehner talked at length about his battles with mental health. Laila Anderson, the St. Louis Blues superfan who is battling a life-threatening immune disease, was featured in the cold open with Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. And Carey Price stole the show when he surprised a young fan on stage, whom he’d met before, following the death of his mother.

Not to be forgotten was the unveiling of the new NHL 20 cover, which features the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. Matthews’ mother is Mexican, and one of his earliest coaches helped found Mexico’s national ice hockey program. There are rumors that the EA Sports game might even have an SAP option, which is tremendous.

“It’s the way they’re growing the game and, you know, different markets, different countries, and just encouraging everybody all over the world to play hockey,” Matthews said. “I hope it’s not my voice that’s going over it, because my Spanish isn’t very good. But I think that’s awesome.”

But the big winner of the night was Rico Phillips, who took home the Willie O’Ree Award. A firefighter in Flint, Michigan, he started playing hockey in high school. Then his journey took him to the world of refereeing. Now, with the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program, Phillips is doing everything he can to give back to the community that built him and he works in today.

“Yes, so when we first started the program, there was certainly a need. There is lack of cultural diversity in hockey all across North America, but specifically in Flint. And as I would look out as a referee, I would see that lack of diversity,” Phillips said Wednesday night, sitting in Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with his award by his side. “And so when we put it together, I had to get with local community leaders, especially the business community, to be able to provide the funds and the equipment for the kids, because we knew we had to have this absolutely free.”

It isn’t just about getting kids out to play for all the obvious reasons that’s helpful. It’s about an exchange between communities that oftentimes goes beyond the ice, which is essentially the whole point.

“One of the best things about our program is the volunteers themselves. We host eight different high school hockey teams who come in on different weeks and adopt the program. So there are built-in on-ice instructors,” Phillips explained. “What’s great about that is these kids, the high school kids come from the suburbs and rural areas, and then they come into the inner city to work with our kids. And this complete cultural breakdown that happens to where they all become one and it’s magic to see. I didn’t know it was gonna be that way, but that is one of the magic parts to our program, is that it’s really community-connected.”

Afterward, Phillips flashed pics with various hockey players, including P.K. Subban — who, by the way, covered NHL 19, becoming the video game’s second consecutive spokesperson of color — and other greats. Earlier in the day, the NHL also approved the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to a Latino owner, California billionaire Alex Meruelo. One is topical, one is deep-rooted.

So while the NHL and hockey as a whole are doing their best to put people with brown faces in outward-facing positions, some who are in them know just how tricky that can be in a real-life application. Hockey is only as inaccessible as anyone makes it seem, although the structural problems do create obstacles.

“There isn’t that gap that people think,” Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie who is currently an analyst for the NHL Network, said after the show. “Hockey players and NHL players don’t live on Pluto. I feel like the game is a people game. It’s a family game, it’s a community game. … It’s nice to have them recognized. Community leaders need to be recognized.”

Thursday in Las Vegas, many were. But the scars of the realities of racism don’t go away just because a few trophies are handed out. Those rewards just serve as a reminder of the many things that not only the game has to overcome, but everyone else does too.

From left to right: P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators is revealed as the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 by Steve Campbell and Ryan Russell, known as Olly Postanin and Jacob Ardown from On the Bench, during the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 20 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“In the ’80s, it was a running joke. I was the only black guy on that team. In the whole, everywhere. All right? And I had to absorb that and laugh it off and joke with them,” Phillips recalled. “Otherwise I would have been sad and mad and all those other things. My mother taught me, ‘Well, that is their regular, it’s not yours. Change their minds about who you are. And that’s all that matters.’

“And as a result of that, over time, the cultural things have changed. Now, when I became a young official, the N-bomb got cast right at me. My first season, I was 17 years old. So to think I’d be sitting here today after that dude called me that. Gold, man. Gold.”

The 2017 ESPYS brings out the style in sports once again Brilliant tuxedos — traditional and postmodern — ruled the evening

Some of the world’s best athletes and brightest celebrities met on the crowded red carpet in front of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles before the 25th annual ESPY Awards Wednesday. Despite the sweltering July heat, pros from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB looked cool and relaxed as they paraded into the hall to celebrate their achievements in sports — and popular culture. Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning has been nominated for an ESPY Award 19 times over the course of his pro career — he’s won nine times. This year, he hosted the show and threw plenty of zingers.

While the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the appearance of Michelle Obama, who presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award posthumously to Eunice Kennedy Shriver for her role in creating the Special Olympics. Golden State Warriors superstar and two-time NBA champion Stephen Curry looked perfect in a black-on-black tux. Curry’s wife — and best-selling cookbook author — Ayesha Curry, brought some disco-era cool to the yard with her granite-colored, sequined jumpsuit.

NBA player Stephen Curry (right) and Ayesha Curry attend The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson walked the red carpet in a black velvet Tom Ford tux jacket and pants. Wilson attended without his wife Ciara, who gave birth in April to the couple’s first daughter, Sienna.

NFL player Russell Wilson attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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NBA player D’Angelo Russell attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

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Former Los Angeles Laker and current Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell followed in the (camouflage pants) footsteps of another fashionable Russell (Westbrook). The 2017 league MVP brought his best green pants — and gold chains — to The ESPYS.

NBA player Russell Westbrook (right) and Nina Earl attend The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Courage and perseverance were the themes of the show, and no one represented those two things like 15-year-old Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson, who received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award for his battle with a rare liver disease. Robertson’s tiny black-and-gold tuxedo repped for his hometown of New Orleans.

Jarrius Robertson attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

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U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Simone Biles was nominated this year for Best Female Athlete. Her blue dress and towering sandals were a perfect combination.

Simone Biles on the ESPYS red carpet.

Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s hit Insecure, looked quite secure in a black miniskirt and billowy top.

Issa Rae arrives at the 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Joe Scarnici/WireImage

And you’ve gotta love a guy who switches out formal neckwear for chest tattoos and chains. Los Angeles Clippers star DeAndre Jordan did L.A. cool in a camel tux and gray suede shoes.

DeAndre Jordan arrives at the 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Joe Scarnici/WireImage

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has become de facto ambassador for Music City, and for hockey itself — and his robin’s egg-blue jacquard jacket and vest added a little Southern charm to his ensemble.

NHL player P.K. Subban attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The award for Best Breakthrough Athlete went to Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who came through in a beautifully tailored gray tuxedo jacket and black pants.

NFL player Dak Prescott attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

One of the best dressed men of the night: Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, Jr., who wore a silk tux with a black-and-gray circular pattern.

 

Daily Dose: 6/9/17 NASA selects black woman as part of new astronaut class

I’m in Bristol, Connecticut, on Friday to appear on Outside The Lines, so if you’re around a television at 1 p.m. EST, tune in to give your boy a look-see talking about the best stories of the week. I will not be wearing a hat this time, I promise.

In the classic film White Men Can’t Jump, there is much trash talk. And in one particular scene, a guy decides that “your mama’s an astronaut” is a serious insult. It’s so off the wall and ridiculous that his opponent takes mega offense and loses it. But let’s be clear, being an astronaut is awesome. And for Jessica Watkins, her childhood dream of becoming one just came true. A researcher at the California Institute of Technology, she was one of 12 people picked by NASA for its newest class. This story is so excellent that it makes me want to cry.

If you don’t know who Gwen Bunn is, you will soon. She’s a producer, an artist and a songwriter who came to fame when she linked up with Top Dawg Entertainment’s ScHoolboy Q for the song “Collard Greens.” But she chose to stay independent instead of signing with a big label because she wants to maintain her flexibility as an artist. Here’s a cool story about how she got there. But, while you’re here, make absolutely sure you check out SZA’s new album CTRL, because it’s incredible.

When it comes to being progressive, the NBA is as good as any league in the U.S. And not just in terms of what its players are saying when the cameras are on, but also in regard to what happens behind the scenes to keep their league diverse. Now a few teams are working with Jopwell, which places minority candidates in positions with major firms. And they don’t just work with the NBA. They’ve got agreements with the U.S. Tennis Association, and in general they keep these pipelines open. Half of the startup team is a former Yale guard.

Last night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, something foul happened. At one point, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators decided to renew their little rivalry in a game that was otherwise a blowout. Sid The Kid at one point was grinding Subban’s head into the ice as a way to tweak him. OK, whatever. But then NBC’s Mike Milbury gets on the camera saying that he deserved it, for God knows what reason. Oh, wait. Yeah, Milbury’s the reason that hockey will be forever stuck in the Stone Age.

Free Food

Coffee Break: It’s summertime now, so you’re going to be dealing with something that we all hate: bugs. Whether it’s keeping them off your body, out of your food or out of your house, they’re a problem. Some of us use the old magazine/newspaper method for the latter, but if you’re a humane person, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has something you can work with.

Snack Time: There are people actually paying money to walk around Brooklyn, New York, in tour groups as part of some “ghetto safari” experience, and these people are the worst. I’m so angry at just the concept, never mind execution.

Dessert: Sometimes, it’s rough with the fam. But we’re all gonna make it if we try. Happy weekend, kiddos.

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Daily Dose: 5/23/17 Bomb blast kills 22 at Ariana Grande concert

You should probably know that I’ve been listening to Future’s Mask Off every day when I leave the house for about a month now, so when I see that Kendrick Lamar has dropped a verse on the remix, that’s an immediate click, fam.

A lot of girls lost their innocence last night. At an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a bomb went off toward the end of her set, killing 22 people. As is the norm these days, the way it unfolded on social media was as heartbreaking as the news itself, with people in the English city understandably panicking while looking for their loved ones through any means possible. ISIS is taking responsibility, which means President Donald Trump is talking about it, which means these victims will be immediately forgotten for the sake of American politics. Awful.

Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter spent his birthday posting about his potential status as a political prisoner. So, for a very strange moment, you could go to his Twitter page and see a video of him saying his passport had been taken, with balloons falling all over your screen. If you don’t know, he’s been openly critical of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him a modern-day Hitler, among other things. He was briefly detained in Romania, but now he’s back on U.S. soil, and he talked to Desus & Mero about the experience.

In high school, for some people, getting a job is a rite of passage. Personally, my mom wasn’t really into the idea of me doing just any job, which was rather limiting on many levels but also taught me to really enjoy jobs when I finally did get one. With the way the economy has developed over the past 20 years, the typical haven for said positions is dwindling: the mall. Now, some major retailers are battling with summer enrichment opportunities as a way to snag cheap labor.

The Nashville Predators will be in the Stanley Cup Finals. P.K. Subban and his boys are headed to play for the NHL championship. I told you all last June that his arrival in Tennessee would be a good thing for American entertainment, and I was right. Now, it’s a rock star country concert at every intermission, and Smashville is rocking. This is the best-case scenario for the league. If the Pittsburgh Penguins can top the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, we’ll have an old power versus everyone’s favorite upstart team. Could be a great series.

Free Food

Coffee Break: As we all know, Black Twitter runs these streets. When it comes to the latest on fashion, slang, music, etc., it typically comes from us. That’s just how it is, and that’s fine. Now, BET is apparently linking up with the social media company in some sort of official capacity, which should be interesting to say the least.

Snack Time: If you think all maps are accurate representations of the land masses they represent, you must not know anything about the Mercator projection. Anyways, count the New York City subway as another distance distorter.

Dessert: Ladies and gentlemen, your tweet of the day.

Daily Dose: 3/2/17 P.K. Subban set to return to Montreal for first time

March is Women’s History Month and few things sum up the transition from February like this amazing video.

Jeff Sessions is in some serious trouble. The man who grinned and laughed his way through his Senate confirmation hearing to become U.S. attorney general is accused of having had contact with the Russian ambassador, but did not disclose said information. Mind you, he was then a Trump adviser and he said he had no contact with the Russians at all. He’s also on the commission designed to oversee whether Russia interfered in U.S. elections. Yeah, that’s not good. This is not going to end anytime soon. Some want him to resign. Also, check this out.

When news first broke that Beau Biden’s widow was dating his brother, people jumped with reaction. Beau, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, died from brain cancer in 2015 and was a veteran with a budding political career when he died. His brother, Hunter, recently separated from his wife with whom he has three daughters. Between the two tragedies, apparently the two found a connection and have the blessing of the family. On the surface it seems a tad weird, but considering the circumstances, it’s not. Great sitcom premise, though.

Rachel Dolezal is completely bugging. You remember her, right? The woman who claimed to be “transracial” after trying to pass as a black person and heading up an NAACP chapter? Well, her life took a bit of a twist. She lost her job and is on food stamps (no shame in that, btw), but she’s taken things a bit further by changing her name. And not just any old name, she’s reportedly changed it to, wait for it, Nkechi Amare Diallo. Please, hold your applause. I mean look, I’m sorry, but come on. I’m having a hard time taking this seriously.

The trade deadline passed in the NHL, if you weren’t paying attention. And while we’re not going to chalk talk all the transactions across the ice, there is one particular story that we are extremely interested in. P.K. Subban, one of the top five stars in the league, is coming back to Montreal for the first time since being traded to Nashville. Nobody really knows why he was dealt to begin with, but when a Canadian player who happens to be black is viewed as a little too flashy for a franchise’s taste, who knows. His reception oughta be interesting.

Free Food

Coffee Break: When we first saw Gary from Chicago on the Academy Awards stage, he was just another prank victim who was really into taking pictures of things on his smartphone. It was adorable, in an old black family kind of way. Turns out he’s got quite the backstory, which is an interesting look at how sentencing and rehab can work.

Snack Time: There are disturbing death cases. Then there’s the case of a Muslim teen found hanged in the woods. It was initially ruled a suicide. Now the family is asking the FBI to investigate. Very troubling.

Dessert: Just watch this. You’re welcome.