In the age of Black Lives Matter, no league faced a bigger challenge in coming to terms with its identity than the NHL. In fact, you’d be well within your rights to label its soul-searching “hopeless,” given the amount of ground it would need to cover to reconcile with its past and current behavior. It’s almost a completely white sport played by only those with the money to do so at the lower levels. It has generally greeted change in the same fashion as a wolverine with a stubbed toe, and a healthy portion of its fanbase likes it that way. And they’re the ones that the NHL is most afraid of losing, even though it’s the one keeping them from reaching the heights they can only dream about financially and growth-wise.
In the summer, the NHL at least pawed at trying to do the right things. It had the correct statements, if not terribly original ones. It postponed games along with other sports after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. It promised to do better, partially through the formation of the Executive Inclusion Council. That was in concert with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, formed organically by current and former Black NHL players in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to improve the sport’s problems and dealings with race. The NHL adopted a set of initiatives as a result of the movement.
A good portion of fans, maybe most, waved away the NHL’s announcements as merely “performative” and trying to appease the times. That is now the opinion of the HDA, the very organization the NHL said it was working with to implement major changes to the sport.
Yesterday, the HDA announced it had severed ties with the league.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance is grateful for the support from the public we received. Unfortunately, the support we hoped to receive from the NHL was not delivered and instead the NHL focused on performative public relations efforts that seemed aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game.
We have waited many months for a response to the common sense HDA pledge we proposed, and it is clear that the NHL is not prepared to make any measurable commitments to end systemic racism in hockey.
While we are disappointed, the HDA will operate separate and independent of the NHL and authentically implement necessary education programs and changes to the sport and seek to be role models for the youth in BIPOC communities who want to play hockey.
When you read what the HDA had asked of the NHL, your face might freeze permanently in confusion about what exactly the league’s issues were. Then you’ll remember this is the NHL, an organization born with its thumb lodged deeply in its anus. These are the tenets of the HDA Pledge:
- Create policy and rule changes that make the game more inclusive
- Establish specific targets for hiring, partnering, and promoting Black individuals and businesses
- Execute educational programming to increase awareness of racism in hockey
- Fund social justice impact initiatives
None of this sounds very complicated or hard to pull off, but it apparently was too much for the NHL.
When dealing with any league, the first “why” has to be money. Hockey’s biggest problem is its inaccessibility to so many. It’s an incredibly expensive sport to play as a child, which rules out just about anyone who isn’t living in the suburbs and/or the child of a former player. If hockey truly wants to grow the game, the NHL would embark on a massive program to provide ice time and equipment for all kids. That wouldn’t be cheap, but it also wouldn’t break the bank of any of the billionaires who own teams. But no team owner anywhere can see past their next dollar, ignoring the five they could make down the road instead.
It would be a long-term answer, but one of the problems hockey faces is that its players have grown up without playing against or with many kids of color. With that experience, it would be much easier to create bonds, and understanding, and help the game grow overall. There wouldn’t be a feeling of “intrusion” amongst hockey if they had spent their whole life playing alongside BIPOC.
But in a league that’s constantly fanning itself over the loss of revenue due to arenas being closed to fans for the foreseeable future, you probably won’t find a group treating pennies like manhole covers more than this one. The NHL isn’t going to “fund” anything right now, especially not anything that might cause Deano in his Cam Neely jersey to shit a chicken and declare his fandom over because the league thought it might be racist.
The league’s diversity initiatives couldn’t have possibly cost that much money, but maybe money wasn’t the stumbling block. Maybe it was even a hint at a “Rooney Rule” for hiring coaches and GMs, seeing as how the NHL only hires the same guys 12 times as it is, and it has shown little desire to go outside that club. Whatever the reason, at this point in history it’s an extremely bad look for the league. It’s also a perfect example of how the NHL is just never going to get it, and how they will be left in the dust going forward.
Anyway, if you’d like to help a group actually doing the work to rid hockey of some truly neanderthalic practices and views, check out Black Girl Hockey Club’s “Get Uncomfortable” campaign.