Florida's Anthony Duclair is one of just 27 Black players to appear in an NHL game this season.

NHL’s diversity and racism issues extend to fans, coaching, management and the broadcast booth

This is the second in a two-part series examining racism in hockey through the shared experiences of current and former players, coaches, fans, and the media. While Part 1 focused mostly on the on-ice experiences of players and coaches, the second part will focus more on off-ice issues such as growing the game, fan experiences, hiring processes, and making the game more inclusive for all.

Hockey arenas can be the loneliest environments for hockey fans of color.

Fatou Bah is a loud and proud fan, the type the NHL wants to draw to games. But when she heads out to watch a game, and her mom questions her, as a Black woman, she understands the reasoning. There are times she questions herself.

“Especially when it comes to actually wanting to go to a game because that’s when I really feel sometimes that it’s very lonely,” Bah said. “And sometimes I do wonder why am I supporting this? Because I’m hearing things, and I’m like we’re in 2022. ”

»READ MORE:” It puts a stain on the game I love so much “: Hockey’s racism problem rears its ugly head again

JT Brown, a former NHL player and now a broadcaster for the Seattle Kraken, said “growing the game,” includes both attracting new players and fans. Because of that, he’s on the NHL Fan Inclusion Committee, which was created in September 2020.

“I think if you listen to some of the stories, whether it was going to a game and … having to deal with whether it’s unruly fans or comments … that’s a tough part about that, that would be tough to become a [hockey] fan or want to become a fan, ”Brown said. “And I think it only takes one time, one good experience at a hockey game, watching, especially watching it live that can turn a person into a lifelong fan, a new fan.”

In many cases, it helps to reach fans when they’re young. Bah, however, never paid attention to hockey while growing up in DC because she thought it “wasn’t for her.” When she moved to New York as an adult, a colleague invited her to watch the Capitals. Bah quickly fell in love with the sport, and when she realized the Capitals had a Black player in Joel Ward, she was all in.

Bah got used to being one of the only ones in the crowd who was Black. Then she found Black Girl Hockey Club, an organization created by Renee Hess to create a community for Black females who like hockey.

“It was such a big deal,” Bah said. “Like looking next to me, looking in front of me, looking behind me and seeing Black women of all ages so openly passionate and it was something that everybody else at that arena sees.”

In the two years since Bah joined the Black Girl Hockey Club, its following has grown exponentially. The group, which had around 1,000 followers when Bah joined, now has over 30,000 followers on Twitter. Following the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup win, Bah has also noticed more Black fans in DC The slowly growing number of players of color has helped as well. This season, 27 Black players have appeared in an NHL game, while 55 of over 700 NHL players (7%) currently identify as players of color.

The demographics are still far less diverse than the NFL, NBA, MLB or MLS. While around 93% of the players in the NHL identify as white, according to a 2020 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 27% of NFL players are white, just 18% of the NBA, 59% of MLB and 38 % of MLS. Because of this, hockey can still be intimidating to some communities, especially when racist incidents are still happening on the ice and in the stands.

“We’ve got to always be in reality,” Bah said. “Like, of course, this is great. We’ve come far. But this is what’s still happening. So obviously, more work needs to be done. ”

People aren’t born with opinions about who belongs in hockey arenas, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said, so if you can reach them early, the game will start to change.

While the NHL may hope its actions will have a trickle-down effect, change really starts at the grassroots level, Dumba said. Everything goes back to access and education, and those at the highest levels are starting to try and provide those things for future generations.

Gillian Jackson, a coach for Snider Youth Hockey who grew up in Philadelphia, says one of the biggest roadblocks for people in her community is the expense. That’s where organizations like the Snider Youth Hockey Foundation try to step in. Based in Philadelphia’s under-resourced communities where “hockey is absolutely not traditional,” Snider Hockey provides ice time and equipment for nothing except the cost of a report card. Scott Tharp, the CEO, said they were careful to talk to the community to make sure they weren’t barging in. They were surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response.

At first, the families saw it as a “safe haven” and a “a structured program that would not only include healthy recreational activities, but a program that includes academic support,” Tharp said. But as the children started playing, they became fans and so did their families, helping to diversify the Flyers’ fanbase.

“Having an organization like this that gives everything for free and really asks for nothing is so important for our community to go, ‘Alright, we can kill this sport. We can be the best players out there, ‘”Jackson said.

Dumba and the Hockey Diversity Alliance have also been working to clear barriers so all kids can play regardless of their backgrounds or financial situations. Dumba recently hosted a Hockey Without Limits camp that promoted diversity and inclusion to children, and the HDA has been financially supporting hockey development and equipment programs, as well as scholarships for youth players. They’ve also been dedicating support to anti-racism and unconscious bias education programs.

Beyond education about racism, education about Black history within the sport also goes a long way towards showing people of color they belong, Bah said. Black Girl Hockey Club is working to improve both the access and the education about the game through panels, programs and campaigns. Bah, a member of the board, was excited to learn that the slap shot was first utilized in the Colored Hockey League by Eddie Martin, a Black player, in 1906. Bah also mentioned that the San Jose Sharks jersey, one of the league’s most popular jerseys, was designed by a Black artist.

“So for everyone who says hockey is super white, [and] it’s not our history, it absolutely is our history, ”Bah said.

When Kelsey Koelzer, the head coach of Arcadia University’s women’s team and the first Black female hockey coach in NCAA history, was growing up in Pennsylvania, she had very few players of color to look up to. She had even fewer female players of color to emulate. She loved the game nonetheless, but Koezler can’t imagine how much better it would have been if she and other young girls had women that looked like them to look up to.

Derek Arledge, currently the University of Maryland-Baltimore County club hockey coach, was never fazed by looking different, although it started to hit him more when he played club hockey at Penn State. Once he started coaching, he realized what an impact he could make. Players and parents of color seemed to draw towards him, and many commended and encouraged him for being involved in the sport.

Former Flyer Donald Brashear had a similar realization when he moved to Philadelphia. Surrounded by large Black communities for the first time, he realized how important it was that he become a role model for Black kids in the city.

“Ultimately, seeing someone that looks like you that you could imagine yourself becoming or hoping to become, is something that’s really huge,” Koezler said. She realized her own impact when she was playing at Princeton and saw kids coming to her games with signs.

Young players often model themselves after a coach, an older player or a professional player. Knowing that, Snider Hockey has placed an emphasis on hiring kids who finish their program. The NHL Coaches Association has also recognized the importance of mentorship and created the NHLCA BIPOC Coaches Program, which Arledge is a part of. The initiative “aims to specifically support black, indigenous and other coaches of color in several areas including skills development, leadership strategies, communication tactics, networking, and career advancement opportunities.”

Brown feels that teams can play a big part in helping players and coaches act as these role models by making them more visible and “showcasing” them. They can make an impact simply through social media posts showing off the players’ faces, fashion and personalities. Other leagues, like the NBA, have already started to do this more, which is both encouraging and frustrating.

“It’s like, ‘Why can’t we do that?’ Or ‘Why are we following and not leading?’ ”Brown said. “But I think you’ve got to focus on the victories that are being made and pushing the right spot to get to that point.”

Representation needs to go beyond those on the ice, as well. It needs to extend to coaching and into front offices where decisions are made. Joe Meade, Comcast Spectacor’s vice president of community relations and government affairs, did not grow up a hockey fan despite living in the area, but he has quickly come to love it since joining the Flyers organization. Now, he’s working to help the Flyers reach new communities.

“I am very humbled to have this opportunity, and I’m proud to be an African American and serve as an example to the next generation that anything is possible for young people’s careers and their futures,” Meade said. “I am not very focused on being the first, I am more focused on not being the last. There are too many people of color who haven’t been to a Flyers game or really embraced the sport of hockey, but we’re changing that, and changing that quickly. ”

The presentation of the game also recently took a big step when Brown, along with Everett Fitzhugh, became the first all-Black broadcast team for a televised NHL game, when the called the Kraken’s game against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 17.

“It was a really cool moment,” Brown said. “I think it shows, too, that there’s places for [people of color in] hockey, maybe that’s not on the ice, and you still have a passion for the game, but you loves journalism, or you love marketing. You can be anywhere within an organization. ”


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