Progress shouldn’t take this long.
On Tuesday morning, a day after the country was rocked by two mass shooting events on the Fourth of July, the San Jose Sharks — for the second consecutive summer — once again “did too much” by attempting to lighten the mood with some good news.
The Sharks hired Mike Grier as their new general manager. He will go down in history as the first Black person to ever hold that position in NHL history. San Jose teased the announcement on social media a day earlier by releasing this message, “What’s everyone doing tomorrow at 11 a.m. PT? We’d love to formally introduce someone to you all. Check back with us then for a live stream. Sleep well, besties!”
But, before people get too excited, I’m here to inform you why this isn’t the celebratory occasion you might think it is. Because in reality, it’s a slap in the face from the Sharks and the NHL to every Black fan and Black player that league has ever had.
No person, team, or league should ever be celebrated for being the last to change, as the NHL has now finally hired a Black person to be a general manager 20 years after the NFL did it. The NBA and Major League Baseball completed this feat in the 1970s.
If Grier’s name rings a bell to hockey fans it’s because he played in the league for 14 seasons before retiring in 2011. He’s also the brother of Chris Grier, the man who became the Miami Dolphins’ first Black GM in 2016.
As great as it is to be first, we rarely talk about how much of a weight it is to carry. It’s an enjoyable burden, as there’s great pride in making history and being the first to cross that threshold. However, what many overlook and fail to understand is that you’re not crossing that line alone, as you’ve now become the barometer for those that will hopefully come after you. There is great value in being “the only one in the room” when people who look like you were previously excluded. But once you’re in the room, you quickly realize that you have to speak for an entire race/group of people, even when you don’t want to — especially when your personal views on a subject may not be aligned with your people’s.
This is what Mike Grier’s new life will be like more often than not. And he will be doing it for a franchise he used to play for, and one that made an embarrassment of itself just last summer. In case you forgot, the Sharks tried to hijack Juneteenth from African-Americans last year when a white team, in a white sport, in a white city, thought it was a good idea to release an image of their mascot biting the chains off the shackles around a Black person’s wrist to celebrate a holiday that white people seemed to only discover in 2021.
This is who the first Black general manager in the history of the National Hockey League will be working for as it took until 2022 for both entities to “find the right Black guy.”
The saddest part about all of this is that hockey’s fan base, the Sharks, and the league will look at this moment as some type of revolutionary change. This is an example of how progress can be a funny thing. Because when you’re a minority, it’s always a very slow process. But, if you’re of the majority, it feels as if it’s taking place faster than it actually is.
And as the Sharks hold their Tuesday press conference to introduce Grier, while the team and league pat themselves on the backs, I want to remind them that Mike Grier isn’t the first “Mike Grier.” There have been countless Black men before him that were overqualified for the position and overlooked. And when you think about that and how it’s more than likely set the league back further than it could have been, you start to see just how little there is to celebrate.
Eventually, there will be another Mike Grier in hockey as they’ll be the second or third Black person to be a GM in the NHL. And at every one of those press conferences, they will mention his name and thank him for being the first. And as they’re doing it they’ll also be thinking the same thing I’m thinking today: “Why did it take so long?”