The Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group comprised of current and former NHL players, announced Wednesday that they would operate “separate and independent” of the league. The group also slammed the NHL’s diversity initiatives as “performative public relations efforts.”
In a statement, the HDA said they were “grateful for the support from the public we received. Unfortunately, the support we hoped to receive from the NHL was not delivered and instead the NHL focused on performative public relations efforts that seemed aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game.”
Formed earlier this year, the HDA is committed to anti-racism efforts within hockey, with San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu heading the organization. Even in its short history, the relationship between the HDA and the NHL has never been in harmony. The HDA has said in the past that they always planned to operate somewhat independent of the league but that partnerships with the NHL were always a possibility. Wednesday’s statement though seems to be a definitive parting of ways. While this reflects poorly on the NHL, it could be the best path forward for the HDA.
At the re-start of the NHL season this year, the HDA and the NHL seemed to be on somewhat stable ground and found a way to collaborate on an opening ceremony where the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba took a knee. The NHL was happy to take a victory lap for that in the media, but, despite vague assurances that they looked forward to working further with the HDA, nothing else has come to fruition.
Throughout this season, the strain in the relationship between the two sides was evident. In August, Kane and Dumba slammed the league for their reaction to the Jacob Blake shooting. After players paused the game for two days to reflect on systemic racism, the HDA made clear that efforts were player lead and that the NHL had nothing to do with it. That same month, the HDA also released an extensive plan that included funding requests, hiring bench marks and grassroots initiatives for the NHL to take into consideration. In September, the NHL released their own diversity and inclusion action plan, that included few substantive initiatives and almost nothing from the HDA’s list of recommended actions, aside from a hockey clinic to be held in the Toronto area.
It’s clear from the way the NHL has addressed the Black Lives Matter movement that their “both sides” approach comes before their commitment to racial justice. Why then, would the HDA want to tie its fortunes to a league that has continuously dragged their feet on promised changes?
Currently, the NHL has made zero substantial progress on issues they announced they were committing themselves to last November. 10 months ago, the NHL promised an anonymous hotline would be set up to report abuse and there’s still no word on when or if that will happen. Last year, the NHL also said they were forming committees to probe deeper into hockey’s toxic culture. Again, almost a year later, there’s no word on whether those committees have even met yet. The NHL also has not returned multiple requests for comment and clarification on these issues.
It’s clear that the NHL is willing to take change at a glacial pace when bold and decisive steps are needed. What’s also clear is that the NHL will not act unless they are forced to do so from the outside. When left to their own devices, what they come up with is bafflingly weak.
In this sense, the best thing the HDA can do is act like an organization of resistance rather than a good corporate partner. Had they gotten money from the NHL they would certainly be beholden to them for however it’s spent. By severing ties, the HDA is free to be as bold and as visionary as the dreams of its’ founders.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that players have far more power than the league, and if they band together to take forceful action, the league and teams have no choice but to listen. This untethering of ties could be the start of an oppositional organization that holds the league and the sport to account for its promises. The HDA not only has clean slate, but powerful players leading the charge and the backing of a fan base eager to see things change. They never needed the NHL, the NHL needed them. With that out of the way, only good things can happen.