Colorado Avalanche and the Hockey Diversity Alliance

Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri joins the discussion about racism in hockey as a member of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance.

I’d like to think the Colorado Avalanche are a diverse organization. I guess I can’t say the front office has ever been particularly diverse. However, the team has had several players of color through the years and continue to do so now.

I guess that’s not so much a testimony to their commitment to diversity as their color blind nature. They select players based on team fit, not on diversity.

Well, what we’re talking about here is an extraordinarily complex issue. That issue is, specifically, the proliferation of racism in hockey.

Many hockey fans will be quick to jump in and either say there is no racism in hockey or that we should just stick to hockey and ignore these social justice issues. However, for the players involved — some of them Colorado Avalanche players — that stance is not possible. They have experienced that racism first-hand.

I repeat: Colorado Avalanche players, as well as others, have experienced racism at every level of the sport. And it’s not acceptable to just ignore it. Acknowledging the racism rampant in our favored sport is uncomfortable. But it’s necessary.

Recently, some current and former NHLers of color formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The mission of the alliance is “to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.” Here’s the full mission statement:

“Our mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. We will strive to be a force for positive change not only within our game of hockey, but also within society.”

They will work independently of the NHL, but their goal is to accomplish changes within the league. They want to develop a sense of inclusivity not currently found in the sport of hockey.

Let’s be honest: A sport born in Canada and popular in the frozen North of Europe is an inherently white sport. When Jarome Iginla, a player who spent three years with the Colorado Avalanche, was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, he became only the fourth Black player to receive that honor.

The Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1944. It includes 284 players plus the ones nominated this season. So, that means 281 of the players already in the Hockey Hall of Fame are white.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance intends to promote diversity at all level of the game “though community outreach and engagement with youth.”

Yesterday, the HDA held their first meeting via video chat. On the call were nine current and former NHLers and the moderator, Charles Officer, himself a former pro hockey player.

Included in that group were the following:

Yep, our own Avalanche player, Nazem Kadri, joined the Hockey Diversity Alliance. While not Black, Nazem Kadri is Lebanese and Muslim. He has advocated as a person of color since his high school days.

Here’s their first meeting:

Kadri had some especially impactful words:

“I can relate to this subject because I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve heard it with my own ears. I think growing up you just had to accept the fact that you were different. I kind of understood that at an early age. There wasn’t ever one time that I tried to hide who I was, or run away from my ethnicity or my background. I was always super proud of that. Obviously playing in Toronto for so long, [there were] countless questions, faith and background and brown people. It’s just inevitable… Hearing these vulgar comments, you start to desensitize yourself a little bit and go numb to the fact that people are calling you these names. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Kadri has faced discrimination and racism throughout his career for being a Muslim man of Arab descent. I’d like to say that at least is something he shouldn’t have to face in Denver. While not as diverse as some other cities, Denver does have a very large Muslim population.

All of the players had a lot to say about the racism they’ve faced in hockey. That itself says a lot because hockey players are notorious for never saying anything controversial. The party line up until this point has always been to treat racism in hockey as if it doesn’t exist.

It exists.

As I’m typing this post, I can hear the chants happening in downtown Denver, presumably in front of the Capitol. These issues are already affecting our lives. It behooves us to accept the change when it’s for the positive.

In the case of the Hockey Diversity Alliance and the general fight against racism, the change is for the positive.