Since the recent death of George Floyd and many other black victims of police brutality in the U.S., many black athletes, as well as other athletes of color, have been speaking out against racial injustice. The sports industry has been quick to recognize how racism continues to be a prominent issue within many popular sports.
Players of color in the NHL have decided to tackle the issue hands-on and form a new group focusing on the league’s issues regarding diversity and inclusion. Members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance claim to have been inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism toward Black Americans several years ago.
The NHL has only a reported 43 players of color in a league of over 700 athletes. Over 90% of the league’s players are white, and many players of color have reported racist actions and comments from their teammates and even coaches.
Akim Aliu, a former NHL player, and Evander Kane, a current San Jose Sharks forward, are considered two of the group’s leaders. They have issued statements saying the seven-player group would function independently of the NHL.
Their mission includes making hockey more socioeconomically inclusive and eliminating racism through intolerance, awareness, and community engagement.
The other players of color in the group include Mathew Dumba, Trevor Daley, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, and Joel Ward.
Fighting For All Minorities
Because the group includes more than just athletes in the black community, they have decided to spread their mission to encompass all minorities within the sport as many have faced similar repercussions and prejudices for their race, as well.
Matt Dumba, one of the group’s members, is a Minnesota Wild defenseman. Being of Filipino and Romanian-German descent, he has been classified as a minority in the world of hockey. Dumba, along with Kane and Aliu, has been among the most avid in posting about their new initiative and support for inclusivity.
Although racial injustice has been highlighted in the past few weeks, the NHL has had several instances of racism within the sport. Last November, Don Cherry was fired as the television commentator on “Hockey Night in Canada” for racist comments.
Mike Babcock, the former head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was also accused of bullying his players of color after being fired in December.
Aliu’s name surfaced in the headlines days after Babcock was fired when he posted a tweet accusing his minor league coach, Bill Peters, of directing racial slurs towards him. At the time, Peters was the head coach of the Calgary Flames and immediately resigned after the allegations were made.
In early May, Brendan Leipsic, a Washington Capitals forward, and Jack Rodewald, a Florida Panthers prospect, were publicly reprimanded for their racist and misogynistic comments on social media. With these and many other cases of racial injustice within the league, the NHL has been working to address these issues and find a solution.
Searching For Equality
In the 2016-17 season, four black players were named All-Stars for the first time in NHL history. Even then, only a small number of team captains have been black, and there has yet to be a black head coach in the league.
Since this is a system issue, the best way to make a change is through awareness, education, and youth and community outreach – which are among the goals of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The number of black players in the NHL remains small, as only 100 black players have played in at least one game in the league.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance hopes to provide mentorship opportunities with young players who are members of a minority group the chance to learn with professional athletes like Aliu and Kane. The two have also reached out to Kaepernick for his advice on their mission and claim to feel more empowered than they did before speaking with him.