P.K. Subban Reflects On His Challenging Experience As A Black Hockey Star Who Skated Off The Ice At 33

Black NHL Player P.K. Subban On Pivot Podcast Talks Racism
(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Former NHL superstar P.K. Subban became the first hockey player to join the “The Pivot Podcast” as he talked in-depth about breaking into the sport as a Black man and much more.

 Who Is P.K. Subban? 

A three-time All Star, Olympic gold medalist for Canada and Norris Award Winner for the NHL’s best defenseman, Subban sat down with co-hosts and former NFL stars Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor, who were curious about how the child of a Jamaican immigrant wound up in Canada and eventually hockey’s biggest stage.

 “My parents wanted us to play our national sport,” said Subban. “They wanted me to recognize our roots, but also to grow up Canadian. So me and all of my siblings at least knew how to skate…I wasn’t a gifted athlete by any means. I had to put immense work in…They wanted to keep us away from the streets, but my parents never talked about the NHL as the dream.”

 

How Did PK Subban Deal With Racism In Hockey?

Growing up in a mostly white country playing a mostly white sport, with few black participants at all levels, Subban described many of the challenges that were thrown his way from an early age. Once again it was his parents who helped guide his mentality that stuck with him throughout his time playing in the pros.

 “For my parents, there was never going to be any limits because of skin color,” said Subban. “One time I got called the N-word by a kid during a game and I was crying in between periods. So my mom came down and said, ‘If you’re not going to play, it’s because you don’t want to play. Not because of what other people say.’ That’s just how my parents were from a very young age. There was no using these reasons as an excuse not to do something. So when I got older, I already had known how to deal with this from a young age.”

 Subban would go on to describe how his fierce devotion to his individuality aided his challenging transition to professional hockey. He knew that there would be obstacles with him coming from a different background as compared to most pro hockey players and admits that situations were sometimes difficult because of it.

 “People weren’t really ready for my attitude and my approach when I got into the league,” said Subban. “One thing that’s always been taught to me is respect. I was always very careful with how I treated people, but when people made comments about my character, I had zero tolerance for that.

 “I came in from inner-city Toronto. I lived a different life getting to that point in the NHL. … I wasn’t coming here to break the door down; I was here to live out my dream. I always knew that if I was going to draw attention to myself it would be with how I played on the ice. I was someone who wanted to impose my will on people, and that always ruffles feathers. I’m a young guy who’s confident and educated. … People wanted me to buy in and conform, but for me, I needed people to respect me for who I was, and more importantly for what I did on the ice.”

 

 

Black Hockey Player On Cover Of NHL 19 Video Game

Subban counts that honor he received as one of his most special in his 13-year career. Subban graced the cover of the EA Sports NHL 19 video game, again giving him the opportunity to inspire youth and show a wider audience what they could accomplish in the sport.

 “I wasn’t even happy for myself, I was happy for the game of hockey,” said Subban. “That was one of my proudest moments. Because it was so symbolic of the work I put in and what I was really trying to do. I wanted to show kids that you can do whatever the hell you want to do, if you put your mind to it. It was very emotional for me.”

Subban deserved the honor, and his illustrious career is proof that the choices he made and fearless attitude displayed was worth the journey. The defenseman had 467 points (115 goals, 352 assists) in 834 games for the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. He was effective on the playoff stage as well, racking up 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists) in 96 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

His character was also recognized in 2022, when Subban won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made significant humanitarian contributions in his community.

The episode also sees the crew go in depth with Subban on his decision to retire from the sport at just 33 years old, before going into his current analyst job with ESPN. As he explains, the ability to retire early has meant wonders for his physical and emotional health during this next phase of his life.

Why Did P.K. Subban Retire At 33?

“I’ve been lucky to play hockey and walk away with no injuries,” said Subban. “I retired because if I wasn’t going to compete for a championship, then I wasn’t going to play. Retiring at that age is great. I have my whole life out in front of me. Everything that I couldn’t do in my life, I can still do. … It was great for me personally as well, because I could spend time with the people who I wanted to spend time with.”

In closing out the episode, the panel manages to have Subban come back to his personal mission to make the sport a better place for Black hockey players that follow his legacy. Through the tribulations he discusses on the episode, he believes that he’s in a position to foster positivity going forward.

 “A lot of my success was in spite of people,” said Subban. “It was in spite of individuals and in spite of how I was treated. People don’t understand the toll that it takes on your quality of life. So when people ask me about retirement, I know that I’m good. The person that I am now is somebody who understands what I want, understands what I went through and knows how to use that to create a better league going forward.”

 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.