Albert Einstein defined insanity, as repeating the same thing over and over again with no change. It may seem crazy, but – once again – in January 2022 we’re discussing how prevalent racism is in hockey – and in the sporting world.
I say it’s crazy because it’s not the fact that we’re talking about it again, rather the fact that nothing has changed. The conversation continues as normal.
On Jan. 8, Budweiser Canada – a sponsor of the relatively newer Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) – released a telling video. It was an HDA-sponsored campaign that highlighted what players of colour have seen during their careers and daily lives. The campaign used graphic slurs to confront racism in hockey and was led by members of the HDA – Akim Aliu, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Dumba, Nazem Khani, Chris Stewart, and Anthony Duclair.
While it’s certainly not the beginning of the conversation regarding racism in hockey, it’s nowhere close to the end. The story behind this ad is an important conversation.
Budweiser and the HDA, as well as the NHL
In a piece by TSN’s senior correspondent, Rick Westhead, he speaks with members of the HDA regarding the new #TapeOutHate campaign – what it meant, they gave their stories and how it affects the future of a league that still seems extremely closed off at times.
What was most telling was his conversation with former NHLer – Aliu – who’s brief stint with the Calgary Flames was came with unexpected treatment from the Flames former head coach Bill Peters – an investigation the NHL says it’s concludedBut without any details about the outcome.
Now, Aliu explains that there was efforts made by both the HDA and Budweiser Canada to get the NHL involved in this latest campaign, however the NHL and NHLPA chose not to be a part of it hence why the players in the ad weren’t wearing any NHL licensed gear.
“Over a year ago, Budweiser reached out to the NHL and NHLPA and told them about the spot and that it wanted to include current NHL players,” said Aliu to Westhead. “There were more than a dozen conversations and in every one, the NHL said it didn’t want to work with the HDA. So, we’re not allowed to be in any NHL-branded gear in the spot. The league is saying the current guys like Wayne, ‘You can’t wear the jersey.’ The pettiness and smallness is so sad. It’s another rock bottom for the NHL.”
This comes with the league still in turmoil following the Kyle Beach press conference earlier in the year, the league’s response and the lack of preparedness for yet another COVID wave.
Since the investigation into Peters was launched, Aliu has been quite vocal surrounding some of the controversial stories involving the league – including the Beach, Blackhawks situation and the lack of accountability from the league head offices.
Frankly, Aliu’s frustration with the lack of involvement in this campaign is understandable. For a guy who was chased from the league and other players who put up with racial taunting on a daily basis, it’s the least the league could’ve done to allow a partnership between the two – the NHL and the HDA.
Another perfect example of why this conversation must continue. It is also a great example of why people need be uncomfortable and need to step out their comfort zones when it comes to this topic.
Hockey Racism: Uncomfortable Conversation
I want to call it ignorance, but the fact that I didn’t realize until recently that there was still so much racism in the game of hockey was just stupidity on my part. Simmonds was in London playing when Simmonds was on. It was Peters. The formation of Black Girl Hockey, and the HDA. It was The taunt in Ukrainian Hockey Leaguedirected at Jalen Merceck. It was directed at Mark Connors (16 years old) in a Prince Edward Island tournament. The suspension of Keegan MitchellHockey P.E.I. for his bravery in standing up to racism directed towards him and his teammate.
These are only a few incidents from the past decade. These incidents are only those that have been discussed, shared and reported. They only include incidents that have occurred in hockey. However, this is an issue that both plagues the sport world and the entire world.
Like others, this campaign to combat stigmas and mental health is an in-your face ad. It makes people uncomfortable by exposing the phrases and words being used on social media and said to players on the ice.
As Aliu puts it in the TSN article, “I think this one is the first that hits you right in the face. It doesn’t skirt around this.”
And that’s what the world needs – not to shy away from the conversation.
“We knew this ad is going to be very uncomfortable and we need to be comfortable with that,” said Budweiser Canada’s senior brand director, Mike D’Agostini. “I’m sure some people will be displeased with it. but these players get this on a daily basis.”
The add also included other faces like Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, as well as Sarah Nurse who plays for Canada’s women’s national team. Two players of colour who’ve also dealt with racial taunts over their years of playing the game.
However, it will take a lot more for the change to be visible. It doesn’t end here. And as the players discuss in this campaign video it’ll take more from those around them to help push this conversation and make it a constant rather than pop-up.
What’s the next step?
Racism and the NHL: Where It Comes From
I’ll say it one more time – this campaign is still only the beginning. Black Girl Hockey and the HDA will have to keep pushing forward in the same way that they are pushing. These players were promised by Budweiser Canada that their stories would be told in full – using the uncomfortable slurs to really wake up the world that makes up their audience.
To simply state that change needs to happen isn’t enough. Force the world to see what they have created – the environment they’ve created for players like Smereck, Connors and the current and former NHLers of the HDA.
The NHL must also get involved. They must support these players’ efforts to bring about change. After all, one of their top prospects right now is a black player – Quinton Byfield. Welcome him into an NHL that is accepting and inclusive instead of the same old NHL we’ve known for years.
As for the #TapeOutHate campaign, it’s time to get uncomfortable and stand with players of colour so we can see better efforts to change the game of hockey.
As such, Budweiser Canada will sell rolls of hockey tape that will read “Racism has no place in hockey.” It will also include the campaign’s hashtag #TapeOutHate and one dollar of each roll will be give to the HDA.
After all, there’s no better time to have the conversation.
Andrew is currently in his 8th season reporting for The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewGForbes