Hockey Diversity Alliance Calls Out NHL for Launch of Player Inclusion Coalition

In the week heading up to the NHL Draft, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association launched the Player Inclusion Coalition, described as “a group of current and former NHL players and women’s professional hockey players who work to advance equality and inclusion in the sport of hockey on and off the ice.”

The organization is co-chaired by former NHL players Anson Carter and P.K. Subban, and has 20 members with a range of perspective through people of color, LGBTQIA+, and other allies. They are pledging over a million U.S. dollars to support the coalition’s programming and goals.

During the 2022-23 season, coalition members selected an organization that supports diversity and inclusion in hockey to receive a $5,000 grant from the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition Action Fund. Those organizations included youth hockey programs, the Seattle Pride Hockey Association, and The Empowerment Effect.

Hockey Diversity Alliance Disapproves of NHL Decision

The creation of the Player Inclusion Coalition did not sit well with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization run by current and former NHL players aiming to fight racism and discrimination in ice hockey, seeing the move as repetitive to what the HDA has pledged three years ago. Akim Aliu, the chairman of the HDA, called out the league for their “performative” behavior.

“As the NHL has done so many times, they’re late to the party, and they still want to show that they want to be involved in the dance,” said Aliu, a former NHL player who played seven games with the Calgary Flames. “This is their way of showing that this is their bigger and better thing. But I think everyone that’s on the inside of hockey knows what’s really going on and really knows that this is just another façade.”

The HDA has also released a statement that expressed dismay at the NHL launching the PIC days after they announced that specialty jersey nights were cut, which damages the marketing of merchandise of causes, such as Hockey Is for Everyone (Pride jerseys), Black History Month, Military Appreciation Month, Indigenous Peoples, and Hockey Fights Cancer.

The HDA Previously Tried to Work with the NHL

The NHL and HDA previously negotiated in trying to work together, but the HDA claimed in their statement, “When we approached the NHL 3 years ago for financial and strategic support with our initiatives, their rebuttal to us was “We don’t have history” (notwithstanding that our group is comprised of current and former players of the League). In 3 short years history has already proven who is doing the real work and who is on the right side of it.”

While the NHL and NHLPA previously announced a partnership with the HDA in September of 2020 in creating a grassroots hockey development program for young players of color in the Toronto area, the HDA cut formal ties with the NHL very next month citing the league’s failure in making concrete commitments.

“Our communications with the league have indicated to us that the NHL has no interest in working as a partner for a good cause, but rather seeks full autonomy over any initiative, even one with the best of intentions,” the HDA’s statement added. “Metaphorically, owners’ first instict is to own rather than be a part of a team.”

The NHL Has Little to Show for What They Have Done Since 2020

The NHL has noted in an announcement that the PIC was formed in 2020 under the “Player Inclusion Committee” name in September of that year. In the announcement, the NHL said that the PIC, along with the Fan Inclusion Committee and the Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee “will each develop action-oriented solutions that positively impact the access, opportunity and experiences that underrepresented groups have in the game—and in the business—of hockey.”

However, the HDA said that the NHL has little to show for what their council has done since 2020, with the organization pointing to the strides they made in partnering with corporate sponsors, which comprised of Scotiabank, Kraft Heinz, Canadian Tire, Budweiser Canada, and CCM, in establishing ball hockey and ice hockey programs in the Toronto area last year.

The Alliance has done this without the help of the NHL, though it is believed by Aliu that the rift between the HDA and the NHL originates from the members of the HDA not afraid to speak out and urging the league in taking action.

The HDA also added in their statement that the PIC is “laudable on its face, laughable in full context of the work we have been doing for three years without the league’s support.” When mixing in that the launch occurred days after specialty jersey nights were scrapped, they described that the NHL’s goal of promoting equality and inclusion in ice hockey is not just copying off the HDA’s ideas but also “a cynical attempt to appropriate them.”

The HDA Remains Committed in Promoting Their Cause

The HDA’s board includes chairman Aliu, current NHLers Matt Dumba, Nazem Kadri, Evander Kane, Anthony Duclair, and Wayne Simmonds, and former NHLers Trevor Daley, Joel Ward, and Chris Stewart. Aliu said that the Alliance’s recent statement is directed at the League and commissioner Gary Bettman, and not the members of the PIC.

“We at the HDA don’t just lend our names to our initiatives but also make a sincere effort to establish our presence in young people’s lives,” the statement read. “We directly engage them in the game, make them comfortable in their surroundings and help build their confidence. We work on the ground with them, taking them on field trips to NHL and AHL games, to the Hockey Hall of Fame and to cultural activities that celebrate diversity.”

The HDA added that 230 BIPOC youth from at-risk and underserved communities skated and played with equipment provided by the Alliance, and has funded ball hockey equipment for 240 BIPOC youth, also working with Sportsnet in creating an educational program for youth from said at-risk and underserved communities.

“For those of us at the HDA our work isn’t a matter of appearances but rather involvement, the difference between the performative and the sincere, and the merely crafted and the truly heartfelt,” the Alliance stated in their conclusion. “The work of the HDA is at once difficult and rewarding and the NHL’s expression of interest in promoting diversity is late in its arrival, suspect on its face and in no way helpful to our cause. We will continue to do this important work.”

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