The Brock Badgers are highlighting Black student-athlete and staff stories through a series of features as part of the University’s celebration of Black History Month/African Heritage Month in February. A list of events taking place throughout the month is available on ExperienceBU. Throughout February, Brock Sports and Recreation is raising funds for the Black/Indigenous Heritage Student-Athlete bursary through proceeds from an “All for Change” T-shirt, which is available online, and a portion of varsity home game ticket sales.
As a Black student-athlete, Matt Barnes has faced not only the swift slap of hockey pucks but also the biting sting of racism on the icy rinks.
Despite these challenges, the Brock men’s hockey defenceman continues to lace up his skates, engage in tough conversations and turn adversity into a powerful catalyst for change.
“As a Black student-athlete, I have encountered racism in various forms,” said Barnes, a fourth-year Sport Management student. “I’ve navigated these challenges by engaging in conversations with those individuals and maintaining the hope that my journey can hopefully inspire future Black athletes.”
Barnes finds his own inspiration in the lives of Black hockey players who have come before him, including Hockey Hall of Fame members Herb Carnegie and Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League.
For him, Black History Month/African Heritage Month is an opportunity to delve into the trials and triumphs that have sculpted the Black community.
“I personally acknowledge this month by reading and learning about the stories of Black trailblazers and individuals who have left a positive imprint on society,” Barnes said. “I find inspiration in learning about Black athletes, particularly in the realm of hockey, who have paved the way for others and expanded opportunities in the sport.”
Barnes was born in Mississauga and grew up playing hockey in Barrie. His mother originates from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. His biological father, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, succumbed to cancer when Barnes was only a year old. He was adopted by his father at the age of four.
As a teenager, Barnes earned his way onto Barrie’s triple-A teams before lacing up for the Orangeville Flyers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, including a stint with a team out west in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Barnes was recruited to play for the Brock Badgers in 2019 and has patrolled the blue line as a defenceman for four seasons while pursuing his degree. This season, the coaching staff named him an alternate captain.
“Matt is a reliable leader who always does the right thing while leading by example,” said head coach TJ Manastersky. “He is respected by every teammate and staff member for his humble and hardworking nature. I’m proud to have him leading our team.”
While Barnes has faced challenges as a Black student-athlete, he has also seen positive trends in Canadian university sports since he joined Brock.
“During my tenure as a student-athlete, I have observed a growing presence of Black student-athletes at Brock University,” Barnes said. “I am pleased with the representation of Black athletes in sports, and I believe Ontario University Athletics has done a great job in providing a platform for student-athletes of all ethnicities to thrive.”
In 2021, OUA published an Anti-Racism Report which detailed the uneven playing field between white and racialized athletes. The report set out to shed light on members’ experiences with racism and spark a provincewide motivation to change.
Barnes says initiatives such as the Diversity in Sport Conference, which aims to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in amateur sports, offer valuable opportunities for minority athletes to develop leadership skills and network with industry professionals.
As Barnes looks beyond his university years, his aspirations extend beyond the ice through leadership wherever his career takes him.
“My goal is to continue growing as a person and a leader,” he says. “I aim to motivate Black youth by setting an example that you can succeed in any situation you are in.”