The seven members of the newly formed Hockey Diversity Alliance have played a combined 4,492 games and counting in the NHL. It’s hard enough to play just one game in the best league in the world when you grow up with every possible advantage. It’s fair to say that these seven men did not have those. And it’s pretty clear they faced additional barriers that many of their white peers can’t begin to fathom.
Against all odds, one of them (Trevor Daley) won two Stanley Cups, one of them (Joel Ward) got a university education and at least three of them (Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart and Trevor Daley) overcame their significant socioeconomic disadvantages to be among the best players in the biggest and most expensive minor hockey association in the world before going on to the NHL. Two of them (Evander Kane and Simmonds) have won gold medals at the World Junior Championship, one (Matt Dumba) has won a gold medal at the World Championship and one (Kane) has won a Memorial Cup. Well done, Gentlemen.
And perhaps it’s because of those things that the members of the alliance have set such lofty goals. In case you haven't noticed, they're pretty high achievers. In unveiling the alliance earlier this week, they proclaimed, “Our mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.” The statement went on to say, “We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands will do so without worrying about race, gender of socioeconomic background and will be able to express their culture, identity, values and personality without fear of retribution.”
If you’re going to step into the batter’s box, no sense in not swinging for the fences. The alliance must be commended for its lofty goals, particularly when events both on and off the ice in recent months have proven beyond any doubt that those ideals are as far off as they’ve ever been. “We are empowering ourselves to have control over what we have set out to do,” Kane, the alliance co-chair along with Akim Aliu, said Tuesday afternoon on a conference call. “We don’t want something that just looks good or is a box that’s ticked off…We want to take the initiative. We don’t want to wait for something because, to be honest, I’ve been waiting for 11 years since I’ve gotten to the league. The narrative has always been controlled by the upper echelon and I think this is a great opportunity for us to create our own narrative to change the way people think and the culture of our sport.”
The feedback from other players around the league has been very positive. And in light of events in the world, everyone from the league office to the rank-and-file players is pledging to be part of the solution, so the time is very, very right for this. This is not Hockey is for Everyone, the admirable league initiative that sometimes proves accurate, others not so much. But the alliance would like to work with the league to broaden the opportunities for minorities and people of color to be part of the game.
But this is the Hockey Diversity Alliance and diversity encompasses more than just race, gender bias and LGTBQ issues to name only two. The alliance did come under some fire when it was formed for not having any women as part of the group, but Kane did say it will open its umbrella in the future. But you got the sense speaking with him that it can’t, at least in the short-term, be all things to all people. And Kane stressed the alliance is small because with fewer decision makers, things seem to get accomplished more quickly. It appears that racial diversity and tolerance is the primary goal at the moment. Other things will flow from that.
“It’s about both (diversity and racism),” Kane said. “I’m Black and I’m white, so maybe I tick off both boxes. When you talk about women in our sport, there are so many powerful voices in that area. We’re seeking out those types of players and all players from all different forms of background. It’s about diversity and creating a more welcoming culture, but at the same time, there’s clearly a racism problem in our sport. It’s been pushed aside and covered up ever since I started playing hockey and that is a major issue we need to suppress in a major way. If you don’t get rid of the racism, how are you going to create a more diverse game? That doesn’t make any sense.”
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