NHL announces initiatives to combat racism, accelerate inclusion

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The NHL logo is seen on a goal. (Mark Humphrey/CP/AP)

The players took their stand, and now the league is showing how it plans to back it up.

A week after the NHL postponed two days of playoff games following a player-driven boycott in support of protests across the sporting world in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting by police, the league, in partnership with the NHLPA, announced Thursday new initiatives to combat racism and ramp up its inclusion efforts directed across various levels of hockey.

Among its new programs, the NHL and NHLPA plan to work with Hockey Diversity Alliance to establish a grassroots hockey development program to provide mentorship and skill development for BIPOC boys and girls in the Greater Toronto Area and create a similar pilot program in the U.S.; create mandatory inclusion and diversity training for all players and staff to be conducted during training camp and the beginning of the 2020-21 season; institute an “inclusion learning experience” geared at educating league employees on concepts such as anti-racism, unconscious bias, dimensions of identity, micro-aggressions and cultural competency; and host “Courageous Conversations” related to race, equity, diversity and inclusion at the club level.

“We applaud NHL players for recognizing the importance of this moment and for coming together as part of a genuine movement for change,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with all voices of change to fight for equality and broaden access to the game we all love.”

Additionally, the NHL has formed an executive inclusion council — made up of owners as well as former players and executives and spearheaded by Bettman and Buffalo Sabres owner Kim Pegula — focused on identifying opportunities for positive change and developing tangible action and benchmarks to advance inclusion and diversity.

Three other committees — the player inclusion committee, co-chaired by P.K. Subban and Anson Carter and comprised of current and former NHL and women’s players — the fan inclusion committee and youth hockey inclusion committee — will work toward “action-oriented solutions” aimed at improving access, opportunity and experiences for minorities in hockey.

The NHL and NHLPA also announced the following joint efforts:

• The development of a hotline, operated by an independent provider, that would allow users to report unethical behaviour and misconduct.
• “Significant” financial investments to grow hockey at the youth level in communities of colour via the NHL/NHLPA Industry Growth Fund.
• Provide funding, as needed, devoted to new “initiatives that bring more people of colour into our game.”

“Everyone should be able to live and work in an environment that is inclusive, and one that is free from racism and discrimination in any form. In our sport, from the NHL to youth programs, we must take actions to achieve that goal, and to make our sport available and accessible to all,” said Don Fehr, executive director for the NHLPA.

Following in the footsteps of the NBA, the NHL, in collaboration with non-partisan groups When We All Vote and RISE, also plans to help clubs find ways to encourage fans to vote and use their arenas as polling places during the upcoming U.S. election — several clubs, including the Arizona Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals have already committed to the latter.

The NHL also plans to work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to help empower new generations of racial justice leaders by offering financial support to research projects at the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University related to improving the American criminal justice system.

The league is also in discussion with Mellody Hobson and John Rogers of Ariel Investments in hopes of building a more diverse business pipeline and identifying strategies to engage with more minority-owner organizations.

“Under the leadership of NHL senior executive vice-president of social impact, growth intiatives and legislative affairs Kim Davis, the league’s longstanding work in these areas has been refocused over the last three years and accelerated over the last six months. The initiatives we are announcing today are the result of that recommitment to making the NHL more inclusive and welcoming – and to using the privilege of our platform to fight racism,” said Bettman.

“For nearly three decades, the NHL has funded organizations and instituted programs designed to make our game more diverse. We are proud of those efforts – particularly the work done by the legendary Willie O’Ree, who has used the values of hockey to positively impact the lives of thousands of girls and boys – but we know we can and must do more. And we will.”

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