FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Kim Davis sees a change in hockey from when she was a girl growing up in Chicago. Back then, she said, the sport didn’t seem like a place for Black girls like her.
“There were no intentional messages that said the sport was for me, or for us,” said Davis, the NHL’s executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs.
That is slowly changing, Davis said.
She was hired in 2017 to lead diversity and inclusion initiatives in a league that has been criticized for its efforts in those areas. As the NHL prepares for its All-Star celebration in South Florida, its attempts to increase diversity continue to attract attention, not all of it positive.
Some have questioned the NHL's commitment to change, and others have resisted some of its diversity efforts. Davis said the league hopes to combat criticism by holding itself accountable and “proving people wrong.”
“We don't mind the hard questions being asked,” Davis said, “as long as the assessment is fair."
As the start of Black History Month coincided with the All-Star events, the NHL debuted a mobile museum that highlights minority and underrepresented contributors to the game, from Angela James, who was the first Black woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, to Kevin Weekes, the former NHL goalie who became the first Black former player to be a hockey analyst on national television.
“Inclusion is what’s most important because you can be diverse, but if you’re not inclusive, what’s the point of having diversity?” said Jeff Scott, the NHL’s vice president for community development and growth, who helped with the museum’s creation. “What we’re showing here with this experience is the representation of access and opportunities.”
Scott, who is Black, mentioned that hockey did not appear to be an option for him growing up. The goal of the museum, which is set up inside a bus that the league plans to bring to all 32 NHL markets, is to help eliminate some of the same barriers to entry into the sport that existed when he was young.
"Had I known that there was an option, or there were people out there that look like me," Scott said, “I may have been more inclined to do that.”
The league in October released an internal demographic study of its staff and 32 teams. The report found that the NHL’s workforce is 83.6% white with men making up 62% of the total, based on the 4,200 people who participated in a voluntary and anonymous survey (about 67% of all employees). More than 90% of the league’s players and nearly all of its coaches and officials are white.
Davis said the league plans to update the survey every two years to mark its progress.
“We knew our demographics would be controversial at best,” Davis said, “but we wanted to be transparent because we are holding ourselves, first of all, accountable to the change.”
By the time the next report is released, Davis said she hopes both fans and employees feel more welcomed by the league.
“The word I like to use is intentionality,” Davis said. “We’re being intentional about making sure that people who otherwise have not seen the sport of hockey as something that was accessible to them, see it as accessible.”
One of those ways is through the NHL's “Pathway to Hockey" summit, which encourages newcomers to learn about hockey and consider careers in the NHL by telling the stories of people who work for the league.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and potential presidential candidate, criticized the league's original advertisement of the summit, calling it discriminatory. The ad noted that participants must identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+ and/or disabled.
“We do not abide by the woke notion that discrimination should be overlooked if applied in a politically popular manner or against a politically unpopular demographic,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, said in a statement. “We are fighting all discrimination in our schools and our workplaces, and we will fight it in publicly accessible places of meeting or activity. We call upon the National Hockey League to immediately remove and denounce the discriminatory prohibitions it has imposed on attendance to the 2023 ‘Pathway to Hockey’ summit.”
The NHL, after revising the post, held the summit in Fort Lauderdale as planned, with more than 120 attendees, Davis said. She estimated that the participants had an average age of 25.
As recently as five years ago, Davis added, the league likely wouldn't have been able to attract a diverse pool of people in that age group.
“When you're not visible, a lot of times you're nonexistent,” Scott said. “We as a league are hyper-focused on what the future and growth of our game looks like while also sustaining and maintaining our current fan base."
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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press