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Deep Blue Sea: On the fraught relationship between NHL, HDA

Plus Rick Bowness fined for smashing Pavelski’s stick, the ‘Canes sign a former Gophers goaltender and more in today’s news and notes.

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Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild speaks at media availability after practice at Target Field on December 31, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) scored a major marketing opportunity in a recent partnership with Budweiser. The pair came together to create an advertisement that confronts the audience with the slurs nonwhite and people of color in hockey have been called because of their involvement in the sport, as well as a fundraising campaign featuring custom #TapeOutHate hockey tape.

One thing noticeably absent from the spot? Any NHL branding.

Since its formation in June 2020, the HDA — which is made up of nine current and former NHL players — has made themselves available to work with the NHL to achieve what presumably would be their mutual goal of eliminating racism and bigotry in hockey. The league, however, has turned them away every time.

The purposeful unwillingness to work with the league’s marginalized players (who are already taking on extra work to improve the NHL’s product, not to mention working conditions, for no real gain) is more than just a snub. Under the NHL’s brand use agreement per the CBA, the players featured in the Budweiser advertisement were not allowed to wear their jerseys, or any NHL or team-branded clothing.

A licensing agreement is not an impossible ask, but Akim Aliu told TSN’s Rick Westhead that the league has denied every request to work together over the last year, noting, “The pettiness and smallness is so sad.”

Instead, the players don black apparel with the HDA’s logo, which might ultimately be better for brand recognition, but it’s about principal of the thing. The NHL will let someone say slurs while wearing their jerseys, but won’t let anyone wear the jerseys they get called slurs in if they’re gonna bring up the fact they still get called slurs.

Even if the league is notoriously tight with licensing agreements, it’s not like it’s because they’re afraid of controversy. In fact, in 2006, the NHL allowed the use of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo in the film Breakfast With Scot, a movie about a fictional former NHL player who was in the closet for his entire career and his relationship with the team’s attorney as they become guardians over a child who challenges his hang ups about his sexuality and masculinity — and I know I just lost half of you because that sounds like something ripped straight from a fan fiction summary, but it’s a real movie and it’s great, if a little dated.

My point is that for the time, that was considered a pretty risky use of licensing. I mean, Glee wouldn’t even come out for another two years after that film, okay, we were in a different place as a society. So if the controversial nature of the ad spot isn’t the issue, then what exactly is?

It smells like “if we don’t talk about racism, it will just go away,” which doesn’t work, has never worked and the league will shrivel up and die before admitting the role they play in it.

There’s not much else I can say that the players didn’t say themselves. Highly recommend giving the TSN piece a read today and hearing these players out. You can watch the ad spot below.

News & Notes

Blood in the Water

  • New HDA campaign uses graphic slurs to confront racism in hockey [TSN]
  • Simmonds says HDA and NHL ‘don’t really have a working relationship’ [Sportsnet]
  • NHL rules on Rick Bowness’ stick-swinging tirade following defeat, fines Dallas Stars coach $25,000 [ESPN]
  • Trading Filip Zadina: A closer look [Winging It In Motown]
  • Kasperi Kapanen and realistic expectations [Pensburgh]
  • Confident in himself, LaFontaine ready for ‘golden opportunity’ with Carolina [Canes Country]
  • Artemiy Panarin Clears Protocol, Practicing With Rangers Today [Blueshirt Banter]
  • How We Got to the Current John Klingberg Contract Impasse [Defending Big D]
  • ‘A rough development’: Omicron has NHL executives worried about the financial impact of declining attendance [The Athletic]
  • NHL betting: Analyzing the scoring COVID boom [ESPN+]
  • Hart Trophy candidates who could benefit from Oilers’ struggles [Yahoo! Sports]

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