Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba will never forget the vile things said to him as a half-Filipino kid playing hockey in Calgary.
“So many times as a little kid, I saw my own family and my mom and myself leave the rink in tears,” Dumba recalled in a Zoom conference call yesterday. “You’re sitting in the car, talking about what happened. Having the conversation, you have to have a tougher skin. You have to take the high road on this. They’re only saying that because you’re playing so well.”
It’s these memories in common which have driven Dumba, Sharks winger Evander Kane, Akim Aliu, Wayne Simmonds, Trevor Daley, Chris Stewart and former Shark Joel Ward — all current or former NHL players of color — to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA). Their mission is to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
“That’s a conversation that white parents don’t have to have with their kids,” Dumba pointed out. “That’s what I want to eliminate.”
Kane has been talking about it since his NHL debut in 2009, and it appears the rest of the league is finally listening.
“There’s clearly a racism problem in our sport. It’s been pushed aside and covered up ever since I’ve been playing hockey,” Kane stated in a separate Zoom conference call. “If you don’t get rid of the racism, how are you going to create a more diverse game?”
To that end, HDA intends to tackle systemic barriers and racism in hockey at every level.
“Starting with the NHL and working your way down the leagues is what’s going to make the biggest difference,” Dumba said. “Not only younger players seeing their favorite black or minority players standing up, but also their favorite white players also committing to this is going to go such a long way toward bridging that gap, bringing everybody together.”
Kane added: “Kids that look like myself or Matt Dumba or Wayne Simmonds, it’s not up to those kids. Things start at the top. When you come to the top, when we talk about youth hockey, it’s the heads of associations, heads of minor hockey, coaches, managers, those are the type of people that need to educate themselves. Open up their ears and be open to listening and learning about other experiences.”
And if they won’t?
Dumba believes that it’s essential to hold “community and minor hockey teams accountable for what their players say. That’s all part of eradicating the racism in the youth program.”
Both players also stressed making hockey more affordable for the underprivileged, no small feat considering the cost of equipment.
“Unfortunately, hockey’s kind of taken on this narrative as an elitist sport, much like golf used to be,” Kane acknowledged. “Our alliance is going to help trying to create and give opportunities to youth that wouldn’t have an opportunity to play hockey or learn about the game.”
The Hockey Diversity Alliance’s introductory press release on Monday also emphasized its independence from the NHL. Kane noted one critical reason why HDA should be separate from the league’s signature diversity initiative, Hockey Is For Everyone: “It’s a great way to have another layer of accountability.”
However, he envisions working in concert with the NHL: “We’re looking forward to talking with the league. Starting a dialogue with them. Seeing if our combined efforts could really accelerate things.”
In the more immediate future, Kane revealed that Hockey Diversity Alliance’s website should be up in the next 10 days, while its charitable arm has already filed its paperwork. HDA also plans to add even more diversity to their group.
“We are going to be looking to add different kinds of voices, whether that’s women, people with disabilities, and so on,” Kane said. “The more input we can get, the better. We’re not looking to exclude anybody.”
And in the long-term future?
Dumba mused: “If I got a chance to dream, I think in 10 years, you’ll see at least half of the team is going to be mixed or have some color or be some minorities, or maybe it’s the majority.
“Hopefully by that time, kids will only hear the stories; the stories of what some of us had to go through to get where we are. And they can look back and see us and all the people who get involved with what we’re trying to do and see us as kind of pioneers for the sport.”