NEW YORK –
The NHL conducted its first internal demographic study of its employees and all 32 teams, and the results show that hockey still has work to do to increase diversity at all levels.
The report, released Tuesday, found that 83.6 percent of the NHL’s workforce is white, and that men make up nearly 62 percent of the total, based on the 4,200 people who took part in a voluntary and anonymous survey (about 67 percent of all employees). . .
This almost mirrors the situation on the ice, where more than 90 percent of the players and almost all coaches and officials are white.
“The whole purpose behind a workforce study is to provide a baseline: a fact-based baseline so you can start making very intentional and specific strategies about where to hire, how to hire, how to improve your brand” said Kim Davis, the NHL’s executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs. “It’s a good start, but there’s still work to be done.”
One of the next steps is to turn the data into a race and gender attest, which is being produced by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which has been evaluating sports leagues for hiring practices for years.
In the 24-page report, which was submitted to the league’s Board of Governors and distributed to several internal committees, Commissioner Gary Bettman said the data will shape policies “that will have the greatest impact in the years to come.”
The results are not surprising for a sport that has remained predominantly white for many reasons, from socioeconomic to geographic and more. While the NHL has struggled to strengthen diversity efforts from youth hockey to the front office, change has been slow.
Davis said recruiting people of color into the NHL isn’t as simple as that, but that it starts with improving how underrepresented communities see and feel about the sport themselves. The NHL, striving to diversify its fanbase, has identified seven actions, from educational and community initiatives to marketing and partnerships.
“Some of those steps are already underway,” Davis said. “You can’t expect to be recruiting people (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) to work in the league unless you’re also rolling out your Code of Conduct for Stadium Supporters so that people feel the sport is really serious is growing fan base. You also have to make sure you’re reaching out to communities from a youth participation perspective, so all of that effort is underway.”
Some NHL players have wondered why it took so long. The league hired Davis in 2017 to spearhead diversity and inclusion efforts, which regained momentum in 2019 when Nigerian-born player Akim Aliu revealed a coach had used racist language against him in the underage a decade earlier. This sparked wider discussion and led to the formation of several league committees focused on the issue even before the racial bill in summer 2020, when a handful of current and former minority players formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
One of those members, Matt Dumba of Minnesota, recently said he still sees racism in hockey, adding that he’s tired of “the old boys’ club dictating who’s welcome and who’s not.” He and Davis spoke on the subject last week.
“We’ve talked about how (how) there are different ways of thinking about this work, but at the end of the day we all serve the same outcome, which is growing the sport and making sure people look like him and I feel about the sport well and welcome,” said Davis, who is Black. “We both agreed that that was the goal.”
Akim Aliu, who is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance with Dumba, denied the NHL’s report in a lengthy reply to The Associated Press.
“A lot of people are patting themselves on the back. Nothing tangible. Many words without much substance. Half of the report is devoted to engaging the BIPOC community and youth engagement. It’s literally what we do as current and former players in the league,” Aliu wrote, referring to the HDA, which launched a pilot program to promote hockey in underserved Toronto communities this spring.
“We all know there is a big problem in this game, while most of us say there are big problems and massive changes are needed,” Aliu added. “But (when) a few of you inside say everything is fine, it confuses the general public as to whom to support. Until we all succeed and make progress, none of us are.”
Aliu is a minor league journeyman who appeared in seven NHL career games whose revelations in two social media posts led to the Calgary Flames firing Bill Peters. Aliu revealed that Peters aimed racial slurs at him while playing for the coach in the minors.
Racism still occurs at various levels of hockey. In January, a minor-league player was banned for 30 games for making a racist gesture at a black opponent.
Bettman wrote that the league is “determined to look at these difficult moments as opportunities to demonstrate our values and create a better future.”
Davis acknowledged that incidents like these hurt the NHL brand, even if they don’t happen in the league itself. She said she also hopes people will see progress, including teams hiring nine people of color for C-suite positions since the report was written, and San Jose hiring Mike Grier as the league’s first black general manager.
“Change can feel uncomfortable,” she said. “There will be moments that are very, very uncomfortable but we have to have a plan of action. We must continue in this direction.”
AP Hockey writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.