The commissioner of the National Hockey League said more needs to be done to open the game to everyone regardless of race, and it must be done in an environment where players feel safe anytime they’re on the ice.
In a recent Zoom interview with 7Sports Xtra, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said more than 90% of current players in the league are white.
“We have had the Hockey Is for Everyone [initiative], but whatever we’ve done, that’s behind us,” he said. “We need to be better, and we need to do more.”
Bettman went into detail about the league’s current efforts to foster inclusion and diversity. He said a new executive council has been set up with team owners, general managers and players.
Bettman said the NHL has made it clear that physical abuse and racist language cross the line will not be tolerated.
“We need to do more in terms of having actions and institutionalizing policies and procedures that ensure that it’s more than just words,” he said, “to make sure that racism is not just something we talk about but something we do something about.”
For a long time, NHL goalie Kevin Weekes once played for the Florida Panthers. He is working with the commissioner to help ensure any form of racism is eliminated from the game.
In 2002, Weekes was playing against the Carolina Hurricanes during an Eastern Conference finals game in Montreal. He said he saw firsthand the ugliness of bigotry.
“That moment, when that knucklehead threw that banana down after we lost that game in overtime and I was in the net, just getting out of the net, it couldn’t have been any more egregious,” said Weekes. “It couldn’t have been more embarrassing for the knucklehead who did it, and I didn’t really want to dignify that person and allow that to become a distraction from what we were doing.”
Weekes retired in 2009. Since then, he has been on a mission, working hand-in-hand with the NHL to promote the game on all levels, for all races.
“I will never allow myself to go through some of the things I did as a player. I’ll never allow that to happen to me as a human being or in the media. I’ll never allow that to happen,” he said, “and I don’t want to see those things happen to any girls or boys. We don’t want to lose any more kids or any more people as a result of the knuckleheads. We want all the knuckleheads out of the game.”
The recent protests have also compelled professional players to speak out. Over 100 NHL players have voiced their opinions on racial inequality, and Zdeno Chára, the captain of the Boston Bruins, recently marched in a protest.
“This has been more than just a wake-up call,” said Bettman. “There are players who are extremely focused, and this is an important issue for them as well.”
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, is working with the league’s new inclusion and diversity program. He is in the NHL Hall of Fame.
Jarome Iginla is in this year’s Hall of Fame class. He’ll become the fourth Black player inducted.