The formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance was announced Monday morning with Evander Kane and Akim Aliu the co-heads and Joel Ward, Trevor Daley, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart and Mathew Dumba making up the executive committee.
Ward, 39, is the elder statesman of the Alliance and joined Hockey Central on Monday to discuss what they hope to accomplish.
“We’ve been talking for a few months now,” Ward said. “Obviously, hockey’s been very important in the conversations around race and we’ve all seen and experienced racism ourselves at some level of the game and we just actually thought it was important now. With everything that’s going on right now it’s time for us to unite and try to improve our game for future generations.”
Although the Alliance is not currently partnered or officially affiliated with the NHL, Ward said “we definitely would love to work with the league” on issues of inclusivity and diversity while thinking of other ideas and policies that could improve the game.
“I think that we can bring that into the league office,” Ward said. “We’re also trying to promote the diversity all across (the sport) just speaking with the youth and making the game more accessible, more affordable.”
Affordability has long been a major issue at the grassroots level of the sport and in addition to getting help from the NHL, Ward said assistance from the corporate community will make a difference.
“We’ve all been through the struggle of affording equipment and ice time and whatnot and I think that’s obviously going to (require) some help from different areas. … Those sponsorships are going to be huge moving forward and the help of some donations just to help with our foundation to relieve some of those costs.”
The death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody in May has turned the world’s focus back to racial injustice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. In the weeks since Floyd’s death, many of hockey’s top stars have spoken up or released statements where in the past perhaps they might have stayed quiet.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, recently told The Canadian Press. “They understand it’s an important moment. They understand what the issues are, at least in the grand scope. And they’re making their voice heard. Not everybody, but quite a lot. And that’s to their credit.”
Ward explained that seeing former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the U.S. national anthem several years ago and speak out against police brutality, plus listening to other athletes voice their opinions, inspired him to start becoming more vocal on these issues.
“Years ago there wasn’t really much movement,” Ward added. “I think I understood what (Kaepernick) was doing. I think a lot of people didn’t and nobody really piped up and now three years later it’s catching on. I don’t know if it’s just because of the time or what have you.
“Obviously, there’s been the death of George Floyd that brought a spark to a lot of people, but it’s good to see that hockey guys are stepping up and the main thing for me is not just putting out statements but actually are encouraged for the long term, long haul to actually make a difference and they recognize that there is a problem and now it’s time to try to solve that problem.”
Ward, who hadn’t suited up since the 2017-18 season, officially announced his retirement from professional hockey in April. He played 726 regular-season and 83 playoff games over 11 NHL seasons split between the San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild.
In addition to his work with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, the North York, Ont., native also alluded to being interested in potentially getting into coaching or management as part of the next phase of his career.