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The NHL has something to start with a demographic study

NEW YORK — Kim Davis, a black woman hired five years ago to help the NHL with diversity initiatives, wasn’t surprised by much of the league’s first workplace demographics study.

“We are where we expected to be, but now we have the facts to prove it,” Davis said.

The data confirmed expectations: nearly 84% of employees in the league and its 32 teams are white, and nearly 62% are men. The 24-page report presented to the Board of Governors — the biggest topic discussed at their annual fall meeting — also points the way forward for the NHL.

The NHL has received a lot of criticism for being slow in the diversity department. Now, with an independent race and gender newsletter on the way and a benchmark set, observers expect to see signs of progress, which could potentially help hockey boost revenue past the record 5 .4 billion from last season if growth in some underserved communities occurs according to plan.

“If the NHL is able to diversify its membership and its audience, it can ensure that the league will survive and thrive,” said Mikah Thompson, associate dean at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and expert on issues of racial diversity. .

“While pursuing diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do, it’s also good for league results,” added Thompson. “A more diverse workforce in the NHL, including greater diversity among its players, will lead to greater interest in the sport. The NHL’s fan base will grow once diverse people see themselves represented in the league.”

Representation, Davis said, is critical at all levels, not just players, coaches and leaders of hockey operations. There has been progress in the front office with San Jose making Mike Grier the first black general manager and six women named assistant general manager.

But it’s not as easy as recruiting people of color. While the NFL and NBA, in particular, have established a talent pool in non-white communities, the NHL is still building one.

“It’s about enhancing our brand with these communities, ensuring there’s a sense of welcome across all dimensions – not just walking in and working, but how people feel in the stadium and what our young people look like,” Davis said. , NHL Senior Vice President of Social Impact, Growth and Legislative Affairs. “All of these factors play into this overall way in which we guide the movement of our sport.”

It could be decades, perhaps a generation or more, before there is significant, visible evidence of true diversification in hockey. That’s why Davis said the NHL plans to conduct demographic surveys every two years to track progress.

It also submits the data to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which will produce an NHL racial and gender report card for the first time. The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have been involved for at least a decade.

Not everyone is convinced by the NHL’s internal report.

Former player Akim Aliu, born in Nigeria and whose revelation that a coach used racist language towards him in minors, accelerated some diversity projects in 2019, says he and members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance had already engaged with young people of color for years in how the NHL hopes to grow the game.

“Nobody holds them accountable,” Aliu said. “Until we all succeed and progress, none of us will.”

Ketra Armstrong, director of the Center for Race & Ethnicity in Sport at the University of Michigan, agreed with Aliu and others who called much of the NHL’s work thus far largely performative. However, she said she believes the league’s focus on seven topics – leadership, education, employment, marketing, partnerships, participation and community engagement – ​​has the potential to create real change.

“All of these things will send a complete message that this league is sincere and genuine in its efforts to become more culturally diverse and inclusive,” Armstrong said. “And it takes a lot of that stuff.”

Like Armstrong, Thompson said there should be optimism about hockey diversification, and they agree the demographic study is a solid first step that shows real intent. Armstrong also suggested the NHL “celebrate the small wins along the way” because of the lengthy process.

“You have to put in effort, energy and patience,” she said. “Often people try to undo years and years of injustice, exclusion and modernization with one or two special programs. They have to be there for the long haul.”

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