Growing up in Detroit helped him become NHL’s first Black team broadcaster
Detroiter Everett Fitzhugh with his single-parent mom, left and right, and on the job as a hockey broadcaster, center. In his new job as broadcaster with the expansion Seattle Kraken, FitzHugh says he’ll be able to “introduce inner city kids, minorities and people of color to a game which historically hasn't seen a whole lot of non-white faces."
When Everett Fitzhugh was watching a hockey game on television between the Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers when he was in the third grade, he noticed something that changed his life and would ultimately lead to his career as an adult.
What, or rather who, caught his attention were Oilers players Mike Grier and Georges Laraque, who are both – like Fitzhugh – Black.
"I remember running through the house and saying, "Mom, mom, there's two Black guys on Edmonton and they look like me," Detroit native Fitzhugh told the Detroit News. "That was the coolest thing to see because there weren't a lot of people of color or minorities especially at that time. That gave me role models and people to follow.”
Fitzhugh, 31,grew up in northwest Detroit around Eight Mile and Meyers and attended Tappan Middle School and Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. He was recently hired as a broadcaster for the NHL expansion team the Seattle Kraken, who will begin play in the 1921-22 season. Fitzhugh is the National Hockey League’s first Black team broadcaster.
"I used to say I wanted to be in the NHL by age 40," he said. "To get there nine years earlier, I never could've imagined. I also get to introduce inner city kids, minorities and people of color to a game which historically hasn't seen a whole lot of non-white faces."
FitzHugh began his broadcasting career at Bowling Green University in Ohio. He also has called games for the East Coast Hockey League's Cincinnati Cyclones and the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League.
"I've been fortunate and blessed to have met people from the NHL on down who don't say, 'Oh, he's good for a Black guy.' ” Fitzhugh said. “They see me as a person who is competent in this industry, who sounds pretty good and puts on a good broadcast. Those are the folks I listen to."
He’s proud to be a role model for other minority broadcasters. He wants to be for them what Black announcers such as NBC's Anson Carter and Mike Tirico, SportsNet's Dave Amber and Anthony Stewart, Kevin Weekes of the NHL Network and the late John Saunders of ESPN were for Fitzhugh.
The foundation of his education as a broadcaster came growing up a sports fan of the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings. He listened to and watched the likes of Ernie Harwell, George Blaha, Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond along with the “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasters on Windsor-based CBC television.
"Ernie Harwell was the soundtrack of my summer and for thousands if not millions of people," he said. "I loved his descriptiveness, his phrasing like, 'He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by.' Detroit broadcasters have been phenomenal and have had a profound impact on my life and my career."
He credits his mother – a former probation officer who works at the Third Judicial Circuit Court in downtown Detroit and who adopted Fitzhugh and raised him as a single parent, for much of his success.
"When I was a kid, there weren't a lot of Black kids in Detroit who were into hockey,” he said. “I was made fun of some times by my classmates and friends because I liked hockey a lot. “My mom always told me to never let that stop you. There are no Black and white sports. If you're a hockey fan, be a hockey fan."
Of course, he has dealt with racism and prejudice in his career. For example, the Seattle Times had to disable its comments section on the weekend after publishing a story on his hiring.
The paper didn't specify the nature of the comments but in an editor's note said, "The commen thread on this story has been removed due to too many comments violating our code of conduct."
"You can leave all the comments you want to," Fitzhugh said. "I've got a pretty thick skin. You're never going to please everyone. It goes back full circle to my mom telling me to block out all the noise and don't let the haters get you down. Go out there, be the best you can be.
"At the end of the day, they'll see you for who you are, and they'll regret the way they treated you in the past or some of the negative comments they made. It's on them."
Only one thing matters, as far as he’s concerned.
"I understand I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and I understand there are people who don't care that I'm the first Black team broadcaster," he said. "They don't care that I'm Black. Can I do the job? OK, great. That's all that matters.”
Of course, his first visit to Detroit and Little Caesars Arena with the Kraken in 2021-22 will be special.
"That game isn't even on the schedule yet, and I've already got about 20 ticket requests," he said. "I definitely will be shedding some tears before my first NHL game in Detroit, back home."