Jeff Baidoo was born in Edmonton to immigrant parents from Ghana. The entire family fell in love with the sport of hockey and Jeff was a talented player as a youth. But when they moved to southern Minnesota in 1999, his parents said it would be best for Jeff to try another sport, like football.
“As a kid I came up with every reason why they didn’t want me to play hockey,” said Baidoo, who’s now in his seventh year working for the Minnesota Wild in fan relations and customer service. “Maybe it was because of finances and moving to a new country? Maybe hockey’s different here? I came up with absolutely everything and then I realized, ‘Oh, it’s because I’m black and they’re not.’”
“Now I look back and I understand that it was protection. My parents said there are other kids on the football field that look like you and there’s more players on the team, so you’re less of a target out there. That’s something that I look back on and think … wow!”
With the events that took place in the Twin Cities this past summer and their impact across the globe, Baidoo was pushed into action. Recently he’s taken a new volunteer role with Minnesota Hockey as Equity Advisor to help facilitate and advance racial progress, diversity and inclusion in the sport we love. Jeff will lead a committee that will serve as a sounding board for families that have struggled with issues of racism or discrimination, but will also work to come up with diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Baidoo believes one of the most important and effective places to start making an impact is in conversations at home with mom and dad and recently, he shared some insight on how to get started.
Touchpoint Media: How can parents make an impact and be an ally?
Jeff Baidoo: I think some of those microaggressions and the racism that you hear, that isn’t something that you are born with. That’s all learned. There are so many stereotypes and messages engrained in our culture that kids’ education on race, and really any topic related to diversity, is never neutral. Either the current culture is being perpetuated or you’re taking an active role in their education and that starts at home. There are things you can learn to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
The important thing is to have these conversations. Start them early and have them often. That way it doesn’t have to be something that’s uncomfortable when it comes up later on.
TM: How should parents approach or begin these conversations?
Jeff Baidoo: I think it’s truly coming from a place of empathy. Ask the child questions. Oftentimes the kids know a lot more than we give them credit for. I think the earlier you start having those conversations the more aware they will be and the deeper, more open conversations you will be able to have as they mature.
TM: For teams and communities that are not very diverse or have no players of color, is this still important?
Jeff Baidoo: One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s easy to put on blinders and say ‘No, hockey doesn’t have that,’ or ‘It doesn’t exist in our sport or our team or our community.’ But that’s not the case. The hockey community needs to look at itself as a whole and not put blinders on. We’re trying to get this game to be the greatest game on earth. In order to do that, we need everybody possible to help the game grow, help be diverse and help the best athletes play our sport. In order to do that, we have to have an inclusive mentality. We don’t want anybody turned away from our game. We don’t want anybody to feel unwelcome.
This might not be as prevalent in some communities or it might not even be known. But the fact that racism does exist is part of the education piece. You might not have anybody on your team that looks different than you, but you may be playing against someone that does.
TM: You talked about blinders. One thing you hear about is color blindness: people saying they don’t see skin color — they treat everybody the same.
Jeff Baidoo: It’s important to note the differences. It’s not ‘just a hockey player.’ It’s more than that. Just like in every sport, the skates come off, the helmet comes off, the pads come off — and then it’s back to just being a little boy or girl who plays a sport but now has the rest of their life to live. If you don’t see skin color, then you don’t see that when the kids leave the rink, they have a completely different life than you do. Understanding those differences and learning about those differences, asking the right questions to learn about those differences helps you understand why seeing skin color is important. It may not make a difference on the ice, but in the rest of life, it does exist and it must be acknowledged there.
TM: If there is an incident, how can parents be a part of the solution?
Jeff Baidoo: We really have to rely on all of our allies. That includes coaches, officials, parents and teammates to step in and immediately eliminate it and say something. Have that conversation and make it known that it will not be tolerated. If it’s a young kid and it’s clearly an accident or they don’t understand the brevity of what’s coming out of their mouths, having them learn the importance and the impact of what their words mean is crucial. The old saying, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,’ isn’t the truth. It’s just like saying ‘I don’t see color.’ We want to try to eliminate it as soon as possible. Try to make it a learning experience for the entire team. Kids need to know this is a big deal and it should not be tolerated.
TM: Minnesotans have a lot of pride in being the State of Hockey, but there is so much more room for growth.
Jeff Baidoo: Minnesota is definitely a place where we can approach diversity differently, because we can make it affordable and accessible here. There’s ice everywhere and the community-based programs make it available to so many. The sport of hockey shouldn’t have to be an American sport or a Canadian sport or a white sport or an upper-class sport. It should belong to everyone that wants to get on the ice and play it, because it’s that good, and it deserves to be enjoyed by as many as possible. I know we can do that here in Minnesota.