There’s a lot to unpack in the NHL’s new “Initiatives to Combat Racism and Accelerate Inclusion Efforts” plan that was announced Thursday. For the better part of nine months, the league has been promising to be an equal partner in pushing for change, but their 2,500 word plan only has a scant few new initiatives and even those fall far short of the bold and decisive steps the league needs to take.
Among the new initiatives, the NHL, in conjunction with the NHLPA, will hold “mandatory inclusion and diversity training” for all NHL Players. All league employees meanwhile will “participate in an inclusion learning experience” conducted by the organization White Men as Full Diversity Partners. For teams, including coaches and team personnel, the NHL will “continue to host a series of “Courageous Conversations” related to race, equity, diversity and inclusion.”
In addition, the league finally announced the formation of four committees that will work combat racism in the sport, the idea of which was floated late last year. The NHL also said they were developing an independent Hotline “to report unethical behavior and misconduct,” which, again, was announced 9 months ago and yet still continues to be in the planning stages.
The NHL also said that teams will partner with “nonpartisan” voting groups When We All Vote and RISE to encourage voting and will make Election Day in the US and Canada a holiday for their employees.
Out of the seemingly endless bullet points that try to paint the league in the best possible light, there’s little substance in the league’s words and many unanswered questions within the plan. (For The Win has reached out to the NHL for clarification and comment but have yet to hear back.)
For example, consider the NHL Hotline, which already has been in development for months, and yet no time frame was given for its completion. For all the programs that the NHL says that they support financially, no dollar amounts have been released, and though the league committed to hiring a diversity consultant to help the mostly white Executive Inclusion Committee “develop strategies to provide more inclusive workplaces and environments while holding ourselves accountable,” there are no set targets for when that needs to happen or what could be considered a success.
The NHL’s plan has almost nothing substantial to say and to say it’s light on specifics is like saying the sky might be blue.
“The League will also continue to educate our fans and stakeholders about the importance of anti-racism work through extensions of our “Committing to Change” resource guide and amplification of NHL Players, prospects, and alumni who use their voice to call for change,” one of their anti-racism efforts reads.
Again, there are no specifics on this, unless you consider watching Hidden Figures, which the NHL features in its “Committing to Change” resource guide, a helpful tip.
To see how short the plan comes up, compare it to the list of 8 Key Commitments the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which formed earlier this summer, asked it to consider.
Among the action items, the HDA asked the NHL to “commit to creating an inclusive procurement process that ensures Black suppliers are selected to deliver at least 10% of the league procurement expenditure. ” The NHL hired “an outside firm to diverse business pipeline and identifying strategies to engage more minority-owned organizations with the League office and the Clubs,” but stopped short of making any commitment this would happen, much less committing to a number of 10%.
The HDA also asked that the NHL to “implement anti-racism and unconscious bias education within the League and make it mandatory for all League employees before the start of the 2020-2021 season.” Now, the effectiveness of diversity training has been debated, but in reading the NHL’s wording closely, only player training is mandatory. The NHL doesn’t use the word mandatory when describing their sessions. Club personnel, which includes coaches and support staff, also aren’t getting any kind of “unconscious bias education.” Their sessions, per the NHL, will be led by EVP of Social Impact Kim Davis.
The HDA has also asked for “policies and sanctions that reflect a commitment to zero tolerance with respect to racial discrimination and abuse before the start of the 2020-2021 season.” So far, that hasn’t been addressed. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in Dec of 2019 that there would be a zero tolerance policy on not reporting abuse, but failed to mention what the punishments would be for committing it.
Per the NHL release:
In December, Commissioner Bettman announced a zero-tolerance policy for failing to report any conduct involving NHL personnel, on or off the ice, that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or abusive – including racial and homophobic language or discrimination. Consequences will be severe and appropriate, designed to remedy the situation and ensure the conduct does not occur again.)
Another action item the HDA asked for was a say in who served on the Executive Inclusion Committee. As ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski pointed out, it’s pretty unlikely this happened.
About the only thing the NHL collaborated with the HDA directly on seems to be a grass roots pilot hockey program in Toronto. That’s a wonderful initiative, but far, far short of the what the asks were.
Holding these two side-by-side, the gap between where players and fans need the NHL to be and where they actually are feels impossibly wide. Change is a slow process, but if the “Initiatives to Combat Racism” plan is any indication, the league is moving so slow it might as well be standing still.