It’s a new year, the start of a new decade, and where is San Quentin sports going?
During the month of February, there were tryouts for the San Quentin A’s, Kings and Warriors. These are some of the teams that represent the prison and, in doing so, help to build public interest in the CDCR from a recreational perspective.
The 1000 Mile Track Club is starting the marathon season as well, and in mentioning them, I’m thinking about the numerous documentaries and movies that have been filmed about sports programs at The Q.
All this indicates that in this new year, this new decade, we need to start taking involvement in sporting activities seriously as a part of the overall rehabilitation process. When a person goes before the Board of Parole Commissioners, voluntary participation in sports needs to be considered as part of a person’s inner journey to healing during their incarceration.
Not every person that suits up for sporting events at The Q will go before the Board of Parole in order to go home. Many of the young people with a determinate sentence get involved just to stay away from other activities on the yard.
However, for the person who waits two to five years to get into some of the upper echelon self-help groups, then take what they learn in those groups and put it into practice during a sporting event (which often involves participation with outside visitors) this is putting conflict resolution skills immediately into action. It’s definitely part of the rehabilitation process.
From creating season schedules, to team tryouts, to dealing with the various personalities that make up team sports, let’s not overlook the audio and visual recording, the sports broadcasting, the pre- and post-game interviews, the coordinating events to even the seating, everything that encompasses putting on an event inside the walls of San Quentin is done by the incarcerated members of SQ News Sports Department, SQ-TV and First Watch.
Why aren’t other institutions in CDCR doing this at their facilities?
What’s happening at The Q shouldn’t be an aberration; it should be the norm. Every institution should have a sports program that’s also partnered with a local college, semi-pro or even a professional team. These people should be invited inside of the facility to help aid in the rehabilitative process, to be involved in the inner healing of incarcerated individuals.
When released, we are coming back to neighborhoods and communities. We are coming back with a sense of purpose and a need to reconcile and help heal those communities. Sports is one healing path that reaches just about everyone, especially the youth.
In this new year, and at the start of this new decade, it’s time that we start looking at sports and rehabilitation in a whole new light.
Willie O’Ree: 1st Black NHL player
Willie Eldon O’Ree, (born Oct. 15, 1935) a former professional ice hockey player from Canada, is called the “Jackie Robinson of Ice Hockey” for having broken the color barrier in the National Hockey League, or NHL.
O’Ree, who played as a winger for the Boston Bruins, has said he met Robinson twice in his younger years. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018.
That same year, according to Wikipedia, the NHL instituted the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honor, to “recognize the individual who has worked to make a positive impact on his or her community, culture or society to make people better through hockey.”
During his career, O’Ree faced many of the same challenges that Robinson faced as the first man of color in a predominately White sport. Before O’Ree, Art Dorrington was the first Black player to sign an NHL contract with the New York Rangers organization, though Dorrington never played beyond the minor league level.
“Racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal,” O’Ree attested. “Fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South’ and ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.”
O’Ree helped make it possible for more Black players to join the league. After O’Ree’s stint in the NHL, there were no other Black players in the NHL until 1974, when the Washington Capitals drafted Mike Marson. Like O’Ree, Marson is Canadian by birth.
By the mid-2010s, there were 23 Black players in the NHL, including P. K. Subban, one of the league’s current most popular players. The NHL requires its players to enroll in a preseason diversity training seminar and punishes racially based verbal abuse with suspensions and fines.
Since 1998, O’Ree has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador. He travels across North America to schools and hockey programs to promote inclusion, dedication and confidence.
The NBA Championship and Stanley Cup Finals play during the same two-week period. Many sports enthusiasts inside prison watch both, exposing the incarcerated population to the NHL and helping grow its appeal.