There are few committees and panels less effective than company-created inclusivity programs. It’s not quite on the level of egregiousness as a business conducting an internal investigation of its own toxic culture, but it’s in the same ballpark — or in this case arena. The NHL and its players’ association announced a new inclusivity thing this week, the Player Inclusion Coalition, which in no way was created in response to the massive pushback the league received for shadow-banning Pride jerseys this week.
You know how I know that the two are unrelated? Because one of the players co-chairing the coalition is PK Subban, who in April said players “don’t need to be activists” when talking about the controversial Pride sweaters.
“We cannot push everyone to be an activist, we need to be very careful,” Subban said, foreshadowing the future facepalm. “I feel people pick and choose what they want to talk about and I don’t like it when we put the onus on athletes to be activists.
“They don’t need to be activists. I’m not saying it is right or wrong to wear the (Pride) jersey, we have just got to be very careful how we push players to do things.”
This might be a bit of a stretch so stop me if you think I’m out of line, but shouldn’t the guy co-chairing the initiative know which side of this debate is “right”? While we can easily infer why Subban took on this role, his cause is now more than just the one that affected him, and he’ll have to be vocal for all the parties he’s representing.
The league’s latest inclusivity program — the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition — is not to be confused with the other one it started in 2020, the Player Inclusion Committee. The committee started in response to the social unrest that enveloped the country after multiple Black people were killed by police officers or while in their custody. What is the difference between the coalition and the committee, you ask? The committee merely recommends the action, while the coalition will be taking action.
Cool, so now that we’ve expressly castrated the committee, what’s its use?
That’s a question for Gary Bettman, who we last heard recommending specialty warmups not be worn due to their potential to cause distractions. The commish wasn’t even mentioned in the coalition’s announcement, and to be fair, that’s probably for the better, and one of the positives of the announcement. Among the non-cynical positives is the intention.
Improving diversity in a sport largely bereft of it is a noble cause. It’s not the cheapest sport to get into, and every dollar is needed to even make a dent. Ideally, the steps taken and progress made will merit additional funding.
The $1 million earmarked for the initial steps feels a lot like the NHL is making the minimum payment on its back due to inclusivity promises. Grants for youth hockey programs are great, and so is the $750,000 NHL Player Inclusion Coalition Action Fund dedicated to “grassroots programs that welcome and celebrate diverse hockey audiences.”
Granted those programs actually exist and aren’t Ponzi schemes, it’s a fantastic thought. Kind of niche and weird that they’re a necessary evil in 2023, but still a commendable effort nonetheless.
Will it be enough to recalibrate the NHL’s culture and the portion of the fanbase that’s happy with the current state of the sport? The tone and voice of this article should tell you where you can shove your rainbows, puppy dogs, and well wishes.