The NHL is aiming to return this summer, but players aren’t waiting in the wings. They’re speaking out — and not just about finishing the season.
After many NHLers condemned racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, several minority players — including the Wild’s Matt Dumba and former Wild forwards Joel Ward and Chris Stewart — launched the Hockey Diversity Alliance with a goal of eradicating racism and intolerance in hockey.
The group plans to promote diversity through community outreach and engagement with youth while attempting to make the sport more affordable and accessible.
Although independent of the NHL, the alliance is hopeful it will work with the league.
“We are confident we can inspire a new generation of hockey players and fans,” the group said in an announcement. “We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands will do so without worrying about race, gender or socioeconomic background and will be able to express their culture, identity, values and personality without fear of retribution.”
Akil Aliu and San Jose forward Evander Kane are co-heads of the alliance; Dumba, Flyers winger Stewart, Ward, Detroit defenseman Trevor Daley and Buffalo forward Wayne Simmonds are on the executive committee.
In November, Aliu revealed former Calgary coach Bill Peters used racial slurs against him when both were in the minors during the 2009-10 season. Peters later resigned from the Flames. Aliu, who most recently played overseas after a brief stint in the NHL, met with league brass about his push for change.
Big names donate
Kane was among the first NHLers to speak out, posting on Twitter that he signed a petition demanding the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest at the time of his death May 25 be arrested.
Soon, more NHLers — including high-profile stars Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid — shared comments on social media. Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and Boston’s Zdeno Chara posted about attending protests, and New Jersey’s P.K. Subban said he made a $50,000 donation to the GoFundMe for Floyd’s daughter that the NHL matched. Boston forward Patrice Bergeron also announced he was donating $25,000 to the Boston branch of the NAACP and $25,000 to Centre Multiethnique de Quebec.
Among the most vocal have been Minnesota native and Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler and Iowa Wild forward J.T. Brown, who raised his fist during the national anthem in 2017 while with Tampa Bay.
Dumba has also been visible, posting a statement that, in part, read, “I am an anti-racist” and “#blacklivesmatter.” He also took part in a roundtable discussion on race in hockey for TSN alongside Wheeler, Brown and former Wild player Kurtis Gabriel. Dumba is scheduled to address the media Tuesday.
Voices ring out
In addition to making a statement on Floyd’s death, the Wild also released comments from forward Zach Parise, who pledged to use his voice and platform “to help end racial injustice for good.”
Parise, Brown and General Manager Bill Guerin participated in a video organized by former NHLer and current broadcaster Anson Carter supporting racial equality. The message also included Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr.
Both have been hashing out the league’s return to play plan, which took a step forward Monday when teams were allowed to open their facilities to players for small, voluntary workouts.
The ice at TRIA Rink, the Wild’s practice facility, is scheduled to go in next week, and that’s when players are expected to begin training there. Hosting training camps before returning with a 24-team format are the next milestones the league is eyeing, but logistics have yet to be announced.
Making words count
Wrapping up a season that was stalled March 12 by the coronavirus pandemic, however, isn’t the league’s only focus. According to NHL.com, the league was already in the process of creating the Executive Inclusion Council and its first meeting will be in July. The council, which will be comprised of five owners, five presidents and two GMs, will receive recommendations from three committees representing different stakeholders: the Player Inclusion Committee, the Fan Inclusion Committee and the Youth Inclusion Committee.
Kim Davis, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, also told NHL.com that the league would create a task force focused on the development of coaches and officials; the league gave the NHL Coaches’ Association 14 names of people of color to be invited to a coaching development program.
“The emotional moment of the words and the tweets and the videos are nice, and it makes people feel good,” Davis told NHL.com. “What I care about are the actions that follow, and so that’s what I’m going to be paying attention to. That’s what I’m going to be measuring.
“Two weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now, what are you doing to change how we look and what we do and what we say and how we show up as a sport? That’s what’s important.”