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Demographic Snapshot: Canadian Sports Halls of Fame and the Black Athlete – Part 1



Sports halls of fame provide lots of grist for the debate mill.

Dedicated baseball fans and even occasional observers are pretty familiar with the assertion that the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, New York are the most difficult to enter in all of professional sports. Hockey devotees commonly wrestle over the induction of 1,000 point scorers who seem to have reached that millennial milestone by longevity rather than exceptionality. The N.B.A. and N.F.L.-associated halls in Springfield, Massachusetts and Canton, Ohio, respectively, seem to generate much less heat with their annual Hall of Fame classes because, essentially, they are consistently composed of undisputed masters.

Canadian sports halls of fame are a little more low-key; not commonly the source of forceful debate or targeted analysis. However, some self-directed research yielded some interesting figures and facts about the composition of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame (to be discussed in Part II) in relation to black participants.

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, now physically located in Calgary, Alberta, recognizes Canada’s most significant athletes and builders from a spectrum of sports. Analysing the list of Honoured Members reveals that

  • there are 602 individual Honoured Members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
  • some individual Members gained entry as a result of their team having been inducted, for example, the teammates not named Bailey from Canada’s 4×100 metre sprint relay team from the 1995 IAAF World Championships and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
  • 20 of the 602 or 3.3% of the individual Honoured Members are black [1]
  • 3 out of the 20 or 15% are black women, honoured for soccer, athletics and hockey, respectively, meaning black women are about 0.5 % of all Honoured Members
  • 8 out of the 20  or 40% are honoured for athletics
  • 4 out of the 20 or 20% are honoured for boxing
  • 3 out of the 20 or 15% are honoured for hockey
  • 2 out of the 20 or 10% are honoured for football (the gridiron, pigskin variety)
  • single black honourees come from baseball, soccer and wrestling
  • none of the Honoured Members recognized for basketball are black
  • none of the Honoured Members recognized as builders are black
  • about 7 out of the 20 or 35% toiled in their sports of choice in the first half of the 20th century
  • 10 out of the 20 or 50% were born in Canada (and half of those were born in Ontario), 6 out of 20 or 30% in the Caribbean, and 2 out of 20 or 10% were born in the United States

Many times hall of fame talk focuses on the omitted rather than the admitted. In this regard, consider just two notable black athletes who are not Honoured Members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame:

  • Curtis Hibbert (gymnastics): six-time Canadian all-around men’s gymnastics champion between 1987 and 1992, seven-time medalist in the 1990 Commonwealth Games with five (5) gold medals including the gold in the all-around men’s competition, the first Canadian and the first person of colour to achieve medal standing in World Championship competition (high bar silver medalist in 1987, vault bronze medalist in 1992), commonly acknowledged as the “finest gymnast Canada has ever produced” and recognized for “[proficiency] in all apparatus”Fred Thomas
  • Fred Thomas (basketball/multisport): voted Canada’s second best basketball player of first half-century (1900-1950), Assumption College’s (which became the University of Windsor) long-time, all-time leading scorer with 2,059 points (reportedly the third highest NCAA career mark at the time if considered part of the NCAA statistics) over a his four-year career (1945-1949) in an era when Ontario scholastic teams played American NCAA teams and professional clubs like the Harlem Globetrotters (whom he joined after college), the first black man to play professional baseball in the Eastern League when he made his outfield debut with the Wilkes-Barre Indians on the 4th of July 1948, a halfback for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 1949, member of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame and the former Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame

Is the impression one of disproportionately low black representation in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame or a sense that the percentages are in keeping with the demographics of the country as a whole? Does the absence of any black Honoured Members for basketball seem incredible or a logical consequence of structural elements in Canada’s national basketball program which, arguably, limited the presence of black people prior to the mid-1990’s? Is it dubious that Barbara Howard should be the only black woman inducted for athletics/track and field or did the Dubin Inquiry drop an atomic bomb on and create a nuclear winter for acknowledging the accomplishments of black women who shone on the track in a performance-enhanced “Gilded Age” of Canadian athletics?

Let the discussion begin.


Notes: [1] In using the term “black”, the author recognizes race as a social construct and not a categorical, biological fact, while acknowledging its relevance in social discourse even today. Determining the presence of black athletes in a sports hall of fame is an exercise in, among other things, examining the public record for information on how the athletes were commonly identified by themselves and others, and sometimes less than precise visual observations for typical traits associated with a particular racial description. Racial categorization is admittedly problematic and limiting in various ways but is arguably relevant when discussing sports in a North American context given historical and current-day racial dynamics.


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