The NHL has a league-wide initiative to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion, and the Arizona Coyotes have taken it to heart.
Though the team itself is in the midst of a rebuild on the ice, its efforts to promote, elevate, and encourage diversity have set an example that other NHL clubs have taken note of. Whether it was the coaching internship program they launched prior to the 2021-22 season, or hosting the Black Hockey History Mobile Museum in its last game of the season, the Coyotes have made it clear they’ve completely bought into one thing:
Indeed, hockey is for everyone — especially in the desert.
Black Hockey History Mobile Museum Stops in Glendale
On the Coyotes’ last home game on April 29, the Black Hockey History Tour had its mobile museum parked outside Gila River Arena, delivering an important tool to help educate fans of the NHL’s longstanding history of Black players — as well as other leagues — by displaying educational videos and artifacts to all of its visitors.
The tour itself visits hockey cities across North America, and made it to Glendale for the Coyotes’ final game of the season. Team president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez said it was important to the organization to host it, and the fan response to the display was very meaningful.
“I’m very proud of the NHL and the NHLPA for really supporting this effort,” he said. “I think it really does an incredible job of welcoming everybody from the community into the history of diverse talent — and diverse individuals — in this great sport of hockey, and into the history of the NHL, and how important these communities have been to the NHL.”
The tour’s stop, however, isn’t where the Coyotes wanted to end it. As such, Gutierrez invited students from historically black colleges and universities to take part, offering the opportunity to introduce them to the sports industry, and hockey in particular.
“Hockey is a sport that we are constantly looking at introducing to diverse communities,” he said. “We talk a lot about our fans, and our fans in waiting, and they’re excited to be here, and they’re excited to see this tour.”
Director and producer Kwame Damon Mason, who produced the award-winning documentary “Soul on Ice: Past, Present, and Future,” and also works directly with the league to help elevate black hockey history, said Glendale’s stop marked 28 cities for the tour this season, and its message is critical as the league continues to expand.
“One of the ways to help grow the game is to be able to talk about the vast and different history that the game provides, and part of that is Black hockey history,” Mason said. “The mobile museum is just another way for us to reach our new fans, and old fans, and say to them that this game is growing, and this game has a lot to offer. Teach, come down, check it out, and enjoy it.”
Diversity Internship Program was Wildly Successful
This wasn’t Mason’s first stop in Arizona, either, as he worked directly with Gutierrez and Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong before the season started to launch a groundbreaking internship program. In it, Daunte’ Abercrombie and Nathaniel Brooks worked directly with the team’s coaching staff in an effort to help young, diverse coaches learn and develop at the highest level.
Mason even recorded the journey for the series “NHL Bound,” which is available on YouTube.
The program was a roaring success. So much so, that Gutierrez said the team is “absolutely” going to continue it, and the next set of candidates will be announced at a future date.
“The impact it had on Nathaniel, Daunte’, and everybody else that was involved, it was special,” Gutierrez said. “I just think it started really creating conversation of why don’t we have these opportunities that we open the door for, and create, not only special moments for us as individuals and the coaches, but for the entire league and the entire sport.”
The internship was so successful, in fact, that other teams in the league may very well take up similar programs in the future. Gutierrez said that was always part of the goal, considering the Coyotes weren’t seeking to be “the only,” rather, they were looking to open the door for others to participate, too.
Additional Community Outreach Events
Both of these events bookended the efforts that the Coyotes have made throughout the season, including:
- A partnership with Univision Arizona to broadcast a Spanish game of the week
- Recognition of a Latino business of the month
- Los Howlitos clinics, a learn-to-skate program in Spanish
- Pride Night
- Los Yotes Night
All of these initiatives have made a world of difference, and the Coyotes plan on keeping the momentum up next season. For every person reached, hockey gets a step closer to its goal of maintaining an environment of inclusivity, an important step in the ever-changing landscape of professional sports.
“If you look at where we’re at today, compared to 10 years ago, we’ve jumped leaps and bounds,” Mason said. “We can’t expect it to change overnight, but the one thing it can do is make sure that whatever we do, we do it with intention, and that’s why for me, I’m just trying to be in a position where I can normalize minority faces and voices, and work with the club and teams like the Coyotes to be able to do this.”
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.