Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It may seem crazy, but – once again – in January 2022 we’re discussing how prevalent racism is in hockey – and in the sporting world.
I say it’s crazy because it’s not the fact that we’re talking about it again, rather the fact that nothing has changed. So, the conversation continues as it should.
On Jan. 8, Budweiser Canada – a sponsor of the relatively newer Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) – released a telling video. It was an HDA campaign highlighting what some players of colour, past and current, have experienced during their careers and on a day-to-day basis. The campaign used graphic slurs to confront racism in hockey and was led by members of the HDA – Akim Aliu, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Dumba, Nazem Kadri, Chris Stewart and Anthony Duclair.
While it’s certainly not the beginning of the conversation regarding racism in hockey, it’s nowhere close to the end. In fact, the story behind this ad alone is a conversation that needs to be had.
Budweiser, the HDA and the NHL
In a piece by TSN’s senior correspondent, Rick Westhead, he speaks with members of the HDA regarding the new #TapeOutHate campaign – what it meant, they gave their stories and how it affects the future of a league that still seems extremely closed off at times.
What was most telling was his conversation with former NHLer – Aliu – who’s brief stint with the Calgary Flames was came with unexpected treatment from the Flames former head coach Bill Peters – an investigation the NHL says it’s concluded, but without details on the outcome.
Now, Aliu explains that there was efforts made by both the HDA and Budweiser Canada to get the NHL involved in this latest campaign, however the NHL and NHLPA chose not to be a part of it hence why the players in the ad weren’t wearing any NHL licensed gear.
“Over a year ago, Budweiser reached out to the NHL and NHLPA and told them about the spot and that it wanted to include current NHL players,” said Aliu to Westhead. “There were more than a dozen conversations and in every one, the NHL said it didn’t want to work with the HDA. So, we’re not allowed to be in any NHL-branded gear in the spot. The league is saying the current guys like Wayne, ‘You can’t wear the jersey.’ The pettiness and smallness is so sad. It’s another rock bottom for the NHL.”
This comes with the league still in turmoil following the Kyle Beach press conference earlier in the year, the league’s response and the lack of preparedness for yet another COVID wave.
Since the investigation into Peters was launched, Aliu has been quite vocal surrounding some of the controversial stories involving the league – including the Beach, Blackhawks situation and the lack of accountability from the league head offices.
Frankly, Aliu’s frustration with the lack of involvement in this campaign is understandable. For a guy who was chased from the league and other players who put up with racial taunting on a daily basis, it’s the least the league could’ve done to allow a partnership between the two – the NHL and the HDA.
Yet again, a perfect example of why the conversation needs to continue and why people need to need get uncomfortable and step outside their comfort zone when it comes to this particular topic.
Racism in Hockey Needs Uncomfortable Conversation
I want to call it ignorance, but the fact that I didn’t realize until recently that there was still so much racism in the game of hockey was just stupidity on my part. It was the banana peel on the ice in London when Simmonds was playing. It was the Peters allegations. The formation of Black Girl Hockey and the HDA. It was the taunt in the Ukrainian Hockey League directed at Jalen Smereck. It was the slurs directed at 16-year-old Mark Connors in a Prince Edward Island tournament and the suspension of Keegan Mitchell by Hockey P.E.I. for standing up against racism directed at his teammate.
All of these are just a handful of incidents over the past decade. They are just incidents that have been reported on, talked about and shared. They are just the ones that have happened in hockey. But this is something that plagues the world of sports and the world itself.
This campaign like others before it to combat mental health and other social issues or stigmas is an in-your-face ad. It forces people to get uncomfortable and see the words and phrases that are being used in private messages on social media, said to these players at games and spoken to them on and off the ice.
As Aliu puts it in the TSN article, “I think this one is the first that hits you right in the face. It doesn’t skirt around this.”
And that’s what the world needs – not to shy away from the conversation.
“We knew this ad is going to be very uncomfortable and we need to be comfortable with that,” said Budweiser Canada’s senior brand director, Mike D’Agostini. “I’m sure some people will be displeased with it. but these players get this on a daily basis.”
The add also included other faces like Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, as well as Sarah Nurse who plays for Canada’s women’s national team. Two players of colour who’ve also dealt with racial taunts over their years of playing the game.
But it will take more to see the change. It only starts here. And as the players discuss in this campaign video it’ll take more from those around them to help push this conversation and make it a constant rather than pop-up.
So where does it go from here?
Racism, the NHL and Where It Goes From Here
I’ll say it one more time – this campaign is still only the beginning. The HDA and other organizations like Black Girl Hockey will need to continue to push they way they are pushing. These players were promised by Budweiser Canada that their stories would be told in full – using the uncomfortable slurs to really wake up the world that makes up their audience.
To simply state that change needs to happen isn’t enough. Force the world to see what they have created – the environment they’ve created for players like Smereck, Connors and the current and former NHLers of the HDA.
But the NHL needs to get involved. They need to support the efforts of these players to create change. After all, one of their top prospects right now is a black player – Quinton Byfield. Welcome him into an NHL that is accepting and inclusive instead of the same old NHL we’ve known for years.
As for the #TapeOutHate campaign, it’s time to get uncomfortable and stand with players of colour so we can see better efforts to change the game of hockey.
As such, Budweiser Canada will sell rolls of hockey tape that will read “Racism has no place in hockey.” It will also include the campaign’s hashtag #TapeOutHate and one dollar of each roll will be give to the HDA.
After all, there’s no better time to have the conversation.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.