‘A move is not a moment’: NHL focuses on racial diversity

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New York Rangers right winger Ryan Reaves (75) ice skates in the first period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Friday, June 3, 2022 , in New York. The National Hockey League has taken significant steps in recent years to improve diversity in a sport that has long been predominantly white. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Archive)

SHOVEL

Anson Carter remembers watching in high school when some of his friends dropped out of hockey for being “too white” as he moved forward, his eyes set on a professional career. while he skated.

“It wasn’t, ‘Well, he might be black, we’re not sure, we don’t really know,’” he said, a note of pride in his voice. “You knew I was black.”

As one of the few black players in the NHL at the time, his presence during a career that spanned from 1996 to 2007 did not go unnoticed by those friends in Toronto. He was told that his children are playing hockey.

“It makes me prouder than playing in the league, because they’re like, ‘You played, so why shouldn’t my kids play?’” Carter said. “Seeing this change with the way my friends would think is an amazing thing.”

Fifteen years since Carter turned off the skates, the NHL has taken significant steps to improve diversity on the ice and in the stands, a long-awaited pursuit aimed at expanding hockey’s footprint globally and closing the gap in popularity with other leagues around the world. . Increasing minority ownership in management, mentoring and refereeing is part of a long-term plan that executives hope will change the very face of hockey in the coming years.

“Anyone who expects us to wave a magic wand and make these things happen immediately rather than over time, they don’t understand how real change works,” said Kim Davis, who joined the NHL as executive vice president of impact. social, growth and legislative affairs at the end of 2017. “What encourages me is the fact that our owners and our leaders at our 32 clubs and at the NHL level are committed to this. People are leaning towards it. They understand that this is, as I say, a movement, not a moment, and that it will take time to make the change. But we are already seeing it.”

Davis said there are currently 54 active players who are Arab, Asian, Black, Latino or Indigenous, which would represent about 7% of the league. While the NHL does not maintain official statistics on the racial makeup of team rosters, this is a significant increase from when Carter played.

This postseason has been a showcase of that diversity with several minority players at the forefront.

Nazem Kadri, who is of Lebanese descent, has been one of Colorado’s most influential players and scored the winning goal in overtime in Game 4 last Wednesday that put Avalanche to a Stanley Cup victory, while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare , who is black and from France, is a major newcomer to Tampa Bay in its three-peat offering. New York Rangers fan favorite Ryan Reaves and defender K’Andre Miller, as well as Edmonton star Evander Kane, who are black, were all playing in the conference finals.

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

Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said having black stars in hockey “will also increase the speed at which young black people can start playing hockey.” Reaves front and center in marketing campaigns is just one of several paths that need to be successful to see significant growth.

The push for more diversity in front office hires has so far been more successful with women than people of color. Carter and Davis pointed to the Dallas Stars’ recent hiring of Al Montoya as director of community outreach as a tangible step after his involvement on the NHL’s player inclusion committee — one of several established following Akim Aliu’s 2019 revelation that he was the victim of racist language by a coach in minors and the racial reckoning in the US that began in 2020.

Montoya recently wrote in a notebook, “Long-lasting change doesn’t happen over time” and shares with Carter the theory that more diverse offices will lead to the same kind of change on ice.

“It’s one thing to sign just to make a signing 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 have the best. Diverse minds bring diverse perspectives, and that leads to a great product. I always use the concept that you don’t want all right-handers on ice. The same goes for the office. You don’t want everyone to think the same.”

Carter compares this to the days when European players were stereotyped as soft or when US college players were forgotten because they didn’t go the junior hockey route in Canada. The NHL has undoubtedly become a better product since its broad integration.

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

The NHL in July is due to release its first demographic study and report on diversity, equity and inclusion, which Davis said will clearly show that demographics are changing in the league in terms of representation. Lapchick said for the first time the NHL is working with him on a racial and gender bulletin, which could generate results in six months or more.

“It also gives us a baseline so we can measure and hold ourselves accountable for the future,” Davis said. “We will look at youth participation and the number of black children in our First Shift programs in Canada and our Learn to Play programs. We are seeing the influx of children moving into elite ways is increasing. All these indicators are moving in the right direction, and that’s what we want. We want these indicators to 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 – have been going on for a long time. Lapchick points out that despite Major League Baseball’s decades of efforts and financial investments, there are fewer black players now than ever before, and he understands that this is also a challenge for hockey.

“It’s an expensive sport – it’s not that accessible,” Lapchick said. “So it’s an uphill battle at that level.”

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

“It’s this kind of intentional work that needs to continue to happen at all levels in all of our markets that will really move the dial on all these things,” Davis said.

This dial is not at zero. According to Davis, women make up 40% of NHL fans and 25% of the total number are people of color. The job now is to build this into the future, with the next steps on Carter’s mind involving more minority representation in the front office and ownership functions.

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

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

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