Content warning: This article contains discussions of racism in hockey.
It’s clear that there is undeniably a problem within hockey. New stories of racism within leagues — including racist remarks made between players on the ice and left under team social media posts — are constantly emerging.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) strives to eradicate these forms of racism in hockey by promoting greater access to the sport and encouraging diversity within the game. Although the HDA is not officially affiliated with the NHL, its founders consist of both current and former NHL players, including the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Wayne Simmonds.
Simmonds, along with fellow players Nazem Kadri, Matt Dumba, Anthony Duclair, Akim Aliu, and Chris Stewart, are vocal advocates for the HDA, whose approach emphasizes the need for accountability within the league in matters of racial injustice.
A tape to change the game
On January 8, the HDA partnered up with Budweiser to create an ad for #TapeOutHate hockey tape, which highlights the lack of inclusivity in hockey and the racism that takes place both on and off the ice. This ad, which is just over two minutes long, features a few NHL players sharing their experiences with racism from various points in their career. The experiences that players talk about in this ad include vulgar messages sent to them by fans, inappropriate and racist conduct by fans during games, and racial slurs used by coaching staff. The full ad was posted on Twitter by the HDA and was reposted by a few of its founders — however, only a shortened and non-explicit version aired during Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.
As a step toward preventing other racialized hockey players from having similar experiences, the HDA and Budweiser released a printed hockey tape where proceeds from each purchase directly support the HDA. The tape is sold in a pack of five on Shop Beer Gear’s website and retails for $29.99, with one dollar from each roll donated to the HDA to fund their anti-racism education programs and scholarships, as well as equipment and coaching programs.
In addition to its monetary support of the HDA, the tape serves to bring awareness to the objectives and concerns of the HDA. Each roll of tape has the words “Racism has no place in hockey #TapeOutHate” printed on it, serving as a reminder of the active exclusion and discrimation that is present in the hockey world.
On the day of the tape’s official release, members of the Toronto Maple Leafs publicly showed their support for the HDA and Simmonds, their fourth-line winger, as they sported the tape for their game against the Colorado Avalanche.
The future of the NHL
Airing the ad on Hockey Night in Canada and supporting the HDA by purchasing hockey tape are two steps in the right direction to bring awareness to racism in hockey, but they are not enough to make substantial change. As the NHL holds the ultimate power to make meaningful structural changes and implement anti-racism policies within the league, its participation is crucial for eradicating racism in the sport as a whole.
The NHL has refused to work with the HDA in the past, although it appears, from the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative, that they should share a focus around inclusivity. The difference between the two, then, becomes a matter of accountability and productive action. Where the HDA emphasizes the need for both, the NHL’s statement on inclusivity fails to identify the preexisting factors supporting racism within the game that they continue to uphold.
This concern was addressed in a 2020 press release by the HDA, where they called the NHL’s attempts at promoting diversity a display of “performative public relations efforts that seemed [to be] aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game.”
No hockey player should have to worry about receiving threats on the ice and being verbally abused by coaches because of their skin colour. Until the NHL takes meaningful action to back up their written claims of equality and diversity, hockey will continue to be a sport that excludes minority groups and exposes them to unsafe environments. Hockey should be a game for everyone, but there is still a long way to go until it actually becomes one.