Special to USA Hockey
If you want an idea of how much Bill Douglas loves hockey, think about the following: there weren’t any rinks near Columbia, South Carolina, in the late 1970s.
On the rare cold days where it dipped below freezing long enough, the fountains on the campus of the University of South Carolina would freeze, and Douglas would skate on the fountains.
“We’d do it much to the chagrin of the facilities personnel,” Douglas said. “And other northeasterners would, you know, run, grab their skates and we'd all be out there sort of skating around. And some of those other students who were curious, they would find skates and we’d teach them. Some of the friends I still have to this day I met skating on the fountains.”
When Douglas started his first job out of school — being a reporter for the Charlotte Observer — he worked nights, but was able to work out a deal so he could work during the day at least once a week, just so he would have an evening to go play pickup hockey.
Hockey has been part of Douglas’ life since he was a teenager at home watching the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. He saved his allowance, bought equipment, and became a self-taught goalie reading Jacques Plante’s book on goaltending before joining a bantam team in West Philadelphia where he learned rather quickly how to improve, because he saw “tons and tons of shots.”
Douglas had a positive experience on his team.
“I was lucky I had teammates who were also Black; everyone got along,” Douglas said.
But he also had to learn how to deal with fans and opponents who would treat him differently because of the color of his skin.
“In juniors, there were a lot of other players and fans who weren’t used to seeing Black players or who didn’t think we belonged in the game,” Douglas said. “That was a little bit of a challenge … I just wanted to play. I told my mom, ‘they can call me anything [but] they have to call me a goaltender,’ that’s it. If I let what they say bother me or let what they do bother me, they win.”
Now, Douglas is a featured columnist in a full-time role at NHL.com, covering the impact and influence people of color have had on the sport.
And it all started with a blog, The Color of Hockey, that Douglas launched in 2012 after seeing some of the hate aimed toward Joel Ward on social media after he scored a playoff overtime goal.
“I thought we had gotten beyond that in hockey,” Douglas said. “Unfortunately we weren’t, and aren’t, so I started the blog in response to that.”
It was a passion project for Douglas, who was a full-time political reporter in Washington at the time. He wanted to create an outlet to educate fans and share some of the under-told stories of minorities in hockey.
“The one thing I really, really enjoy about the blog has been its ability to connect,” Douglas said. “There are a lot of folks out there who thought that they were alone, or that they were the only person that looked like them in their area interested in hockey or playing hockey. And maybe they didn’t feel they had a hockey family – by sharing these stories, I could connect a hockey family.”
The coverage started to gain traction. Early on, Douglas would get emails with suggested edits from a former editor Lew Serviss. Thurgood Marshall Jr., the son of Thurgood Marshall, became an early reader and reached out to Douglas about growing the publication. So did Andrew Ray, a die-hard Buffalo Sabres fan and intellectual property lawyer who helped promote the blog.
The NHL also took notice, and in February 2019, the league offered him a full-time role covering the sport. He left political reporting and moved to NHL.com, while still maintaining the blog.
Douglas recently wrote what he says is one of his favorite stories for NHL.com on Keivonn Woodard, a 10-year-old Black youth hockey player from Maryland. Woodard, who is deaf, has recently been nicknamed “Hollywood” by his teammates for a guest-starring role in the recent HBO series, “The Last of Us.”
“His story, to hockey, is so unique,” Douglas said. “His entire family is deaf. He saw hockey at a rink and basically demanded that his parents let him play. And his parents were resistant at first because they hadn’t ever really seen Black players, let alone deaf players … but this kid pushed to play, and he’s such a great story.”
Telling stories like Keivonn’s has gone from a passion to a line of work for Douglas, and the initial push that helped him start the blog has still remained.
From those days skating on the fountains in South Carolina, to The Color of Hockey Blog, to NHL.com, Douglas has played a vital role in inspiring others to get involved with the game of hockey.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.