Breaking a Different Glass Ceiling

Jason Payne hired to become the only current Black head coach in North American professional hockey

Promoting Diversity Within the Game

What’s Happening: Former ECHL Assistant Coach, Jason Payne, has been promoted to head coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones. This is historic because it makes Payne the only Black head coach of any professional hockey team in North America. This doesn’t make Payne the first Black professional head coach ever, but it does make him the first since Dirk Graham became head coach of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks in 1998. For the Toronto native, the promotion has been a long time coming. “There weren't many Black coaches as I was coming up, but when there were, you took notice," he said. For Payne, this is a huge step in his career, and if he succeeds, it may be the perfect stepping stone to his ultimate goal of coaching in the NHL.

Looking Back: As we mentioned, Dirk Graham is and has been the only Black head coach in NHL history. However, there have been a few Black assistant coaches in the NHL. As of a few years ago, Paul Jerrard with the Calgary Flames and Mike Grier with the New Jersey Devils were assistant coaches.

The Bigger Picture: This move matters for various reasons — for starters, it shows that hard work perseveres above all. In a game that simply has a lack of diversity and has struggled in the past at attracting newer and more diverse audiences, this move gives hope to other Black coaches that there is a spot for them on the bench. It lets Black coaches know that their ceiling isn’t just an assistant coach, but that through hard work, you will be recognized for your efforts and rewarded as a head coach.

It also matters to the players on the bench and the Black players who are thinking about life after their playing career is over. Payne’s hiring serves as perfect motivation for players to aspire to become a coach after their playing career is over. Payne said it best. "The more you see the faces, the more it sheds light on the opportunities that are possible." Payne is hoping that the excellent opportunity that lies ahead of him won’t be the last and will only be a harbinger of more good things to come his way.

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