‘It’s not fair.’ Three Nazem Kadri fans share their stories after Avalanche star faces racist abuse

It started with a hockey play. Then hockey reared its ugly head.

Millions watched a couple of weeks ago as Nazem Kadri put on a headset and was asked on national television about threats and racist comments he and his family had received, after a collision with Jordan Binnington left the St. Louis Blues goalie injured.

“People need to be aware that this still happens and it’s hurtful. It’s hurtful,” the Colorado Avalanche center said after Game 4 of the second-round playoff series in St. Louis. “I know a lot of people don’t have to deal with that and they might not understand what it feels like, but people are trying, which I appreciate.”

Kadri’s wife, Ashley, had taken to Instagram following Game 3, when the on-ice incident took place, and shared screenshots of some of the racist messages. The threats prompted the Avalanche to work with St. Louis police to investigate and provide extra security at the team’s hotel and Enterprise Arena.

“At the end of the day, I’m a good hockey player and I just try to provide for my team and try to put all of that aside,” Kadri said. “I just worry about some people — and maybe some kids — that aren’t as mentally tough as I am and have to kind of go through that scrutiny and that criticism. So, I want to do the best that I can to help.”

Kadri, a Muslim of Lebanese descent, has helped in a multitude of ways.

His work through the Kadri Foundation supports youth who can’t afford the high cost to play hockey. He was also a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, current and former players of color seeking to eradicate racism from the game.

When the series shifted back to Colorado, thousands of fans filled the arena with signs reading #StandWithNaz, while thousands more sent messages of support on social media. The Star spoke to three of those Kadri fans to learn about the meaning behind their messages.

Brian Robinson, 52

Aurora, Col.

Nazem Kadri of the Avalanche, the target of racist abuse after an on-ice incident against the Blues, has the Frasers (Cori and Ty, left) and Robinsons (Brian and Liam) in his corner.

Robinson recognized early on that his son was catching the hockey bug.

At just two years old, one of the only times little Liam would sit still was when the Avalanche were on TV. He’s 13 now, and father and son have been watching the Avalanche cruise into the Stanley Cup final while Liam plays in Denver. But their relationship with the game is more complicated than when he was in diapers.

“We had a couple of occurrences where racism was a factor here in Colorado, but it was mostly directed at me, because under the helmet it’s kind of hard to pick him out of the roster and give him a hard time,” the elder Robinson said. “We had run-ins from other parents from various organizations where they would make comments and say things like, ‘Oh look, they have a token Black kid.’ And I would say, ‘Oh look, you have a token idiot.’”

Robinson laughed at the collection. Fighting back with humor was a way to cope with racist remarks that he says are “just the reality.”

Liam, who is Black and Puerto Rican, recently had a Zoom meeting with Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in NHL history. The hockey legend told him that the only thing that defines him as a player is what he does on the ice.

“(O’Ree) instilled a lot of wisdom on my son and it makes him feel really proud to be a player of colour, and then this happens and it made him feel really upset that Kadri had death threats against him,” Robinson said . “He asked me, ‘Why would someone do that? What’s wrong with them?’”

Three generations of hockey players — Liam, Kadri and O’Ree — have had the same experiences lived with racism in the game.

Ty Fraser, 16


As captain of his team, one of Fraser’s main objectives is to make sure everyone who steps on the ice feels like they belong.

For Black History Month this year, he spearheaded an initiative during a tournament in Calgary where his team filled out signs that read “I commit to ending racism because …” Before a game against an all-Indigenous team from Saskatchewan, Fraser and his teammates pasted their signs with custom messages on the glass in solidarity with their opponents.

It’s in line with the way the NHL promotes its Hockey is for Everyone campaign. But for young BIPOC players such as Fraser, it still doesn’t feel that way at times.

“It’s obviously frustrating, because for a while now it’s been preached that hockey should be for everyone and everyone should feel comfortable while playing hockey, and it’s frustrating knowing that this still goes on, not only within hockey but within our world,” Fraser said .

That’s part of why he’s grateful for Kadri and other BIPOC players paving the way in the NHL. He hopes it will help younger players feel comfortable playing the game.

“It may be scary almost to go into a new space where there’s not very many people who can maybe relate to your thoughts and feelings,” Fraser said. “So seeing them get to the most elite level is definitely inspiring for not only me, but other people of color who decide they want to play hockey.”

Fraser wishes hockey did feel like a safe space for everyone. He wishes it was more diverse, like other major sports. It’s not there yet, but one of his goals is to help change that, and stand up against discrimination.

The words he wrote on his sign speak to that: “I commit to ending racism because … it’s not fair.”

Colleen McFadden, 62


McFadden watched joyfully as her son saw Kadri step on to the ice.

“It was the first time my son was seeing Kadri play and he was in awe,” she said of a family trip to an Avalanche playoff game this year. “Because Kadri had the beard and he said ‘Wow, he really looks like he’s Middle Eastern!’ I said, ‘Well ya, he’s Lebanese, so yes he is.’ After that I said: I think I need a Kadri jersey.”

McFadden is from suburban Philadelphia, while her husband hails from Turkey. Her oldest son de ella is her nephew by birth, adopted and brought to America from Turkey when he was 17. When Kadri was traded from the Maple Leafs to Colorado in 2019, McFadden’s son, now in his early 30s, immediately felt a connection.

“We tracked all the Turkish basketball players, the soccer players. We’re always looking for role models that they can identify with,” she said. “With Kadri, because hockey has been such a white man’s sport for so long, and his vocalness from him and his outreach programs to kids, that is what hockey should be: something that is inclusive, something that does n’t look at where you’re from.”

Moving to America at 17 was a challenge for her son, who spoke English fluently but with an accent. McFadden says he faced difficult times and prejudice, and the way Kadri responded when his family de ella was attacked with racist abuse made him even more of an inspiration to her children de ella.

“Every parent would want to teach their child that racism is wrong and it’s gonna happen, and you need to be above it,” McFadden said. “And what Kadri demonstrated … was what I had been teaching our son and our two daughters as long as I’ve had them, which is: Be above it.”


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