Moncton Wildcats

Black History Month: Frantz Jean and Racism

February 22, 2024 - Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)
Moncton Wildcats News Release

Is there still racism in hockey? Frantz Jean, who has been playing or coaching hockey for over 40 years, was kind enough to answer this thorny question as part of Black History Month.

Jean says he started playing organized hockey "in 1981 or 1982", in Ville Mont-Royal, a wealthy borough of Montreal. With VMR, he traveled to the four corners of Quebec with his buddies.

Born of a Haitian father, Nécastille Jean, and a Quebecer mother, Suzanne Bergevin, was he a victim of racism when he played?

"Yes, at all levels and at all times, he answers without hesitation. It started at a very young age, sometimes in a very crude way. Sometimes, people were very shabby, very miserable in their comments. I've also experienced it in implied ways, through bad jokes and inappropriate gestures. Was it coming in waves at me? No, but it happened frequently."

Grant Fuhr changed everything for him

Frantz Jean, goaltending coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2011, started playing organized hockey when he was 10 years old. Dealing with racism is never easy, in sports or in everyday life. Especially not when you're a child or a teenager.

"Sometimes I felt sad, but other times I was angry. I wanted to react violently and physically, but I knew that wasn't the right thing to do, he says. I often questioned a lot of things, and yes, I did think about quitting hockey several times. I wondered if I belonged. You know, back then, we young blacks didn't have a black role model in the NHL. We didn't know which way to go. Plus, I was looking at my teammates' families and they were quite different from mine. I was completely lost in all that.

"Grant Fuhr changed everything, Jean continues passionately. When he started in the NHL [1981-1982], I then wanted to be the next Grant Fuhr! He made me realize that it was possible to be successful and to go far as a black player. I met him a few years ago at the Hall of Fame, when Martin St-Louis was inducted [in 2018], and I thanked him. He paved the way for guys like me."

Réginald Savage, another role model

The interview continues, with more questions for Frantz Jean. Several minutes later, he himself goes back to the players who inspired him.

"Réginald Savage was also a role model for me, even though we were pretty much the same age. I hung out with him in the early 90s and took part in his hockey schools. I was very proud of Réginald. To see a black man dominate like that in the QMJHL [from 1987 to 1990], get drafted in the first round in the NHL [1988] and always be nice to everyone... I was very proud of him. I always told myself I had to be more like Regi!"

Sadly, Réginald Savage passed away on December 24 following a long battle with cancer. He was only 53, the age Frantz Jean will be celebrating on April 6.

However, Jean was delighted to learn that his old pal would be inducted into the QMJHL Hall of Fame in September. "It's about time," he laughs.

Still racism in 2024?

The interview continues, and we ask the former Moncton Wildcats goaltending coach (1997 to 2010) if, in his opinion, racism is still present in hockey in 2024.

"Yes, it's still there, but it's more isolated, we don't see it as much," he says. And I think that with social media, people have more platforms to denounce it. In my day, you had to take it. If you spoke out, you were considered a troublemaker, and you were cast away. Today, when players are victims of racism, they have a lot more resources around them to talk about it and file complaints. You should never be attacked or insulted because of the color of your skin. Never!"

Over the years in Tampa Bay, Frantz Jean had the chance to rub shoulders with black players such as J.T. Brown, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith, Christopher Gibson and Daniel Walcott.

Did he witness any racism towards them? Or did they tell him about it?

"Yes, it's happened, admits Jean, without going into details. We're on the road and other teams' fans make inappropriate comments or gestures. Sometimes, in the stands, there are frustrated fans. And what do you do when you're frustrated? You react impulsively and sometimes say the first thing that pops into your head. Yes, sometimes it's about skin color. Sometimes people will do anything to throw off an opponent! We're talking about hockey here, but it's like that in the streets too. Racism is used to destabilize the other person and try to impose dominance."

Jean assures us, however, that these are isolated incidents and in no way detract from the pride he feels in seeing black players suit up with the Lightning and throughout the NHL.

"I'm 52, so I grew up at a time when there were very few of us. Many black players have played in Tampa, and I'm very proud to say that we were the first NHL team to have an all-black line [Joseph-Smith-Walcott]. And that was in 2021! It's incredible that there hadn't been one before! I'm proud because, unlike when I was younger, young black players can now really believe in their dream of reaching the NHL or playing pro somewhere. And being able to dream, is priceless."

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