Alliance for Hockey Diversity: NHL stars launch campaign against racism

Akim Aliu recalled that no one knew what to expect when he and four NHL players of color sat in a circle in a dimly lit locker room and, with the cameras on, were invited to share their most personal experiences. and painful involving racism.

“Everyone was really worried – because obviously we’re not actors or anything and with really raw material – that we were running out of things to talk about,” Aliu said.

Instead, a shoot that was initially scheduled to last no more than half an hour was approaching 90 minutes when the director finally decided to cut.

The stories were told by Aliu, Matt Dumba of Minnesota, Nazem Kadri of Colorado, Wayne Simmonds of Toronto and Anthony Duclair of Florida, members of the newly formed Hockey Diversity Alliance. The exchange turned out to be so powerful that it became the focal point of a two-minute video that debuted on Saturday to launch an HDA campaign to eradicate racism in hockey.

Sponsored by Budweiser Canada, a modified version of the video (to meet broadcast standards for language and content) will be used in an advertisement serving in Canada to promote the TapeOutHate campaign. An unfiltered version will be posted on social media.

As part of the campaign, rolls of black hockey tape printed with messages of support and solidarity will be sold and one dollar from each sale will be donated to the HDA.

The alliance was formed by current and former NHL players of color following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department in May 2020. This campaign represents its next step in raising awareness of racism in the hockey, while seeking to make predominantly white sport more accessible to minorities.

Dumba found the discussion stimulating. Along with his Filipino mother, he was the butt of racist slurs growing up in Saskatchewan because he has darker skin tone.

“I think it’s standing up for our kids, you know Matt Dumba, 10, 11, 12, knowing how confused he was by all of this and how hurt he was at both,” Dumba said, the first NHL player to kneel in protest over Floyd’s death. “Every guy in our group, you start talking about some of the things that you’ve been through, and that brings out more of the things that you’ve just buried for so long.”

It is also a message that Dumba wanted to share with those who are going through similar experiences: to know that they are not alone.

“It’s disheartening that the kids have to go through this and have this feeling of loneliness and not knowing where to adjust,” Dumba said. “I hope this is a beacon of hope for the younger generation.”

Racism is not new to the NHL. What has changed is those in the game who are ready to speak up.

The cultural shift began in November 2019, when Aliu posted a series of tweets accusing his former minor-league coach Bill Peters of hurling racial slurs a decade earlier. The allegations turned out to be true, which led to Peters resigning his coaching position with the Calgary Flames.

“Racism, ignorance, hatred, this has no place in our game,” Dumba said as he opened the video. What follows in the unfiltered version is a warning and then the actual slurs HDA gamers have endured on social media, texts, and direct messages from so-called fans.

During the discussion in the locker room, Dumba wonders why either of them would want his child to play hockey. Simmonds responds by referring to his daughter, “If I knew she was going to have to face the same things I did, probably not. “

A 14-season NHL veteran, Simmonds was entering his third season with Los Angeles in 2011 when someone threw a banana on the ice during an exhibition game in London, Ont. The man was fined $ 200.

Budweiser Canada approached HDA a year ago with their vision for advertising, with a focus on sending a strong message.

“We believe we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because that’s ultimately how we grow, learn, change and evolve,” said Budweiser Canada Senior Director Mike. D’Agostini.

“The intention of this campaign is not a winning one for Budweiser. I think it’s about our partnership, really about improving HDA and improving the world of hockey, ”he added. “We hear these stories, we hear the struggle that the best professional players go through, and we want to be on the right side of the conversation and change.”

Aliu helped oversee the project, and the former NHL player said he would never have teamed up with a sponsor with the intention of diluting the message.

“We were never going to coat anything and never do anything performative,” Aliu said. “To be completely honest, they’ve kept their word from day one.”

What’s disappointing for HDA members is that the NHL is declining an invitation to get involved.

Dumba questioned the league’s lack of interest noting the campaign’s potential to broaden the hockey base.

“It hurts. I guess it further shows where their heart is on these issues. It’s a hard pill to swallow for us, for our group, for a lot of people who are trying to promote change in our game.” Dumba said. “They might have a huge hand in there and I just haven’t seen it yet.”

The NHL, however, said it supports the campaign and intends to promote the video on its various platforms.

“The NHL commends our partner Budweiser and the Hockey Diversity Alliance for their efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the sport of hockey,” the NHL said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“This continuous movement requires a vision and a commitment on the part of all stakeholders in hockey,” read the press release. “We welcome all who use their voices and platforms to pursue these important goals and remain committed to continuing to use ours and doing the work necessary to create real change. “

The league, which announced an effort to accelerate NHL inclusion efforts a year ago, partnered with Scotiabank in October to launch a diversity video titled “Hockey for All.” .

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