Black History Month: What being a role model means to P.K. Subban

Despite being a NHL star and household name, Nashville Predators star PK Subban still is subject to racist taunts and barbs.

P.K. Subban is a star — there’s really no other way to put it. Whether you’re talking about his on-ice skills or mega-watt personality, the Nashville Predators defenceman sparkles. Subban has expanded his repertoire recently, starring in his own digital series called The P.K. Project.

This comes after Subban hosted an hour-long special at the NHL All-Star Game last month and was on the NBC broadcast at the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The former Montreal Canadiens blueliner also maintains his ties to Quebec, continuing to work closely with the Montreal Children’s Hospital he pledged to raise $10 million for in 2015.

The multi-platform role model recently answered some of Sportsnet’s questions about all aspects of his life.

Sportsnet: Who were some of the black NHLers you looked up to as a kid?

P.K. Subban: Well, there weren’t very many [in the league]. There were a couple. Someone I look up to is Willie O’Ree and Herbert Carnegie (who starred alongside Jean Beliveau for the Quebec Aces in the early 1950s, but was kept out of the NHL due to extreme prejudice). Those would probably be the two. Obviously [O’Ree] is a person who is still present in the game and still visible (Carnegie passed in 2012 at age 92). He was very easy to look up to.

You’ve had the opportunity to get to know O’Ree a little, what have you taken from your interactions with him?
Willie is great. He’s given a lot to the game and even with everything he’s gone through, he continues to give and I think that’s because he sees a greater good in it and he sees a bigger cause. What that reflects is that Willie accepts the fact — and not a lot of athletes can accept this or see this — but he understands it’s bigger than him, it’s bigger than myself, it’s bigger than all of us. It’s about the greater good of the game and I think he’s put the game first continuously, and I think that’s why it was warranted [for him to be put] in the Hall of Fame, because of what he represents.

Given there weren’t too many black players in the league when you were growing up, is it nice to know you can be a model for young black kids out there now playing the game?
I think I just focus on trying to be a good role model in general, not just for black kids, but for all kids. That’s the way I was brought up, to be responsible. To be in the position [I’m in and have the platform] I have, I just try to set a good example for kids out there who not only aspire to be athletes, but aspire to be successful [in anything]. In today’s world, you want to teach kids how to carry themselves and how to treat people. That’s kind of what I try to do and try to represent.

Most people are aware of your work with the Montreal Children’s Hospital from your time with the Habs. When you were traded from Montreal to Nashville in the summer of 2016, one of your first calls was to let them know you wouldn’t be disappearing. Why did you make it such a priority to remain a presence there?
It’s just important to stick to your word. I made a promise to the hospital and the children there and the families that I would make that happen. A lot of people may have expected me to maybe back away from it or change course, but, for me, that’s kind of where my heart lies. I know a lot of people there, a lot of kids, a lot of doctors and nurses who have supported me and helped make the whole process of developing the foundation [P.K.’s Helping Hand] and building it easier. I take the pledge very seriously. It was something that was very meaningful to me, so I wanted to follow through on it.

How did The P.K. Project come about and what made you want to dive into that?
My relationship with [NBC and NBCSN executive producer and president, production] Sam Flood has continued to grow over the past few years, and I think once I did the Stanley Cup game and being able to have my team talk [to NBC], the opportunity to do this special came about. They’ve been very supportive of me and [gave] me the opportunity to do something that’s never been done before in terms of having an active player do an hour-long special and host his own show on their broadcast.

It wasn’t just me. It was the support of my team and the Predators that made it happen. NBC did such a great job coming into town and helping me with all the skits and the digital series, and they were really easy to work with.

Also, the opportunity for me to start my own production company [PeeK Productions] came about, and [The P.K. Project] being the first project of my production company is pretty special, too. The show has been received really, really well.

Are you just getting started in this realm? Any more ideas in the hopper you can share?
Definitely. I have a creative team that helps me. These are people who have worked with me over the past couple years. I also have a ton of ideas myself. When those ideas come to fruition or not, we’ll have to wait and see. I definitely won’t be putting any teaser ideas out there yet. I want to focus on the second half [of the season] and continue to work with my team to win a Stanley Cup right now.

Most of the stuff we did for the show and the production company was in the off-season. It’s just, when things air in the season, everybody thinks you’ve been doing it all season long — which is kinda funny. It’s all really good and exciting.

Do you feel fully settled now that you’re in Year 3 with the Predators in Nashville?
For sure. Nashville is a great city and I love it here. It definitely feels like home.

You’ve got your 30th birthday on the horizon in May. Any anxiety about the odometer turning over?
No, absolutely no worries at all for me. I don’t think I’ll care about the day I turn 40 or 50. I’d rather worry about things that matter. But 30 is a big one and I’m excited. I still think there are a lot things in my life I want to accomplish and 30 is a mark of a lot more great things to come.

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