‘Movement, not a moment’: NHL focus on racial diversity

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Anson Carter remembers watching him in high school where some of his friends gave up hockey for being “too white” while he was moving forward, his eyes fixed on a professional career. By the time he made it to the National Hockey League, dreadlocks were pouring out from under his helmet as he skated.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Okay, maybe he’s black, we’re not really sure, we don’t really know,'” he said, a proud nod in his voice. “You knew I was black.”

As one of the few black players in the NHL at the time, his presence during his 1996-2007 career didn’t go unnoticed by these Toronto friends. They told him that their children play hockey.

“It makes me more proud of playing in the league myself because they’re like, ‘I played, so why don’t my kids play?'” Carter said. “To see this change the way my friends think, it’s amazing.”

Fifteen years since Carter pinned his skates, the NHL has taken what it sees as important steps to improve diversity on the ice and in the stands, a long-awaited endeavor aimed at expanding hockey’s footprint globally and closing the popularity gap with other leagues in the United States. Management, training and leadership are part of a long-term plan that executives hope will change the face of hockey in the coming years.

Kim Davis, who joined the NHL as Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth and Legislative Affairs in late 2017. “I am encouraged by the fact that our owners and leaders at 32 clubs and at the NHL level are committed to this. People tend to this. They understand that these, As I often say, it’s a movement, not a moment and it will take us time to make the change. But we’re already seeing it.”

There are currently 54 active players who are Arab, Asian, black, Latino or Indigenous, which would make up roughly 7% of the league, Davis said. While the NHL does not keep official statistics on the racial composition of the team’s rosters, this is a significant increase when Carter played.

Postseason has been a showcase of this diversity with many minority players up front.

One of Colorado’s most influential players was Nazem Qadri, who is of Lebanese descent, and scored the overtime goal in Game 4 of Wednesday’s final that put the avalanche within one Stanley Cup win, while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the Lions, was one. And from France, he’s the important newcomer to Tampa Bay in its bid to get three peats. The conference finals featured New York Rangers fan favorite Ryan Reeves and defender Andre Miller, as well as Edmonton star Evander Kane, who is black.

“There’s that little kid in the house right now who’s going to be able to watch a game and go, ‘Look!'” said Bellemare. “Because, of course, you’re trying to imitate someone you can see yourself in.”

Having black stars in hockey “will also increase the speed at which black children may start playing hockey,” said Richard Labschek, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. Putting players like Kadri and Reaves front and center in marketing campaigns is just one of the many avenues that must be successful for meaningful growth.

The push for more diversity in front office assignments has so far shown more success with women than with people of color. Carter and Davis both cited the Dallas Stars’ recent appointment of Al Montoya as director of community outreach as a concrete step forward after his participation on the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee — one of several created in the wake of Akim Aliu’s 2019 discovery. A victim of racist language by A coach in the palace and an interracial account in America started in 2020.

“Permanent change does not happen over time,” Montoya recently wrote on a notebook and Carter shares the theory that more diverse front desks will lead to the same kind of change on the ice.

“It’s one thing that you just sign and you don’t want to do that,” said Montoya, a retired goalkeeper who was the first Cuban American and first Spanish-speaking player in the NHL. “You want to get the best. Diverse minds bring a diverse perspective, and that leads to a great product. I always use the concept that you don’t want all right-handed players on the ice. Same goes for the office. You don’t want everyone to think the same way.” “.

Carter compares it to the days when European players were portrayed as flaccid or when American college players were overlooked for not taking the junior hockey route in Canada. The NHL has undoubtedly become a better product since its wide integration.

“It has become normal to see diverse players playing on the ice because they have become normal in the front office,” Carter said. And people might not be like, ‘If this guy gets intimidated playing, we’re not really sure if he’s serious about playing hockey or he’s going to be a rapper,’ if you have a black guy like me or in a front office or part of the management team. “.

The NHL is due in July to release its first demographic survey and report on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, which Davis said will clearly show that demographics are changing around the league in terms of representation. Labchik said the NHL is working with him for the first time on a report card on race and gender, which could yield results in six months or so.

“It also provides us with a baseline so that we can measure ourselves and hold us accountable for the future,” Davis said. “We will take a look at youth participation and the number of children of color in Canada’s First Shift programs and our Learn to Play programs. We see the pipeline of children moving onto elite paths is increasing. All of these indicators are moving in the right direction, and that is what we want. We want These indicators point in the right direction.”

These grassroots efforts to grow the game in Black, Latino and other underrepresented communities—a smart business move for any league—has been going on for a long time. Lapchick points out that despite the efforts and financial investments of decades of Major League Baseball, there are fewer black players now than ever before, and recognizes that this is a challenge for hockey as well.

“It’s an expensive sport – it’s not easy to get to,” Labchik said. “So, it is an uphill battle at this level.”

Carter, who chairs the player inclusion committee and is an analyst with Turner Sports, is in regular contact with representatives from USA Hockey and other organizations to continue work on these efforts, which include last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins who founded the Willie O’Ree Academy that provides free instruction to black players. . The Penguins also launched a hockey diversity program run by former Jamaican national team captain Jaden Lindo and worked to open the Pittsburgh city limits’ first skating rink in decades.

“It’s this kind of deliberate action that has to continue at every level in all of our markets, and it’s really going to move the connection on all of these things,” Davis said.

This dial is not at zero. According to Davies, women make up 40% of NHL fans and 25% of the total number of people of color. The work now is about building that for the future, with next steps on Carter’s mind that include more minority representation in front office and ownership roles.

“We are going in the right direction,” he said. “This will happen over time as more candidates are brought to the negotiating table. You will see it happen slowly but surely.”

Follow AP hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More from AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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