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Color of Hockey

Color of Hockey: Collegiate diversity initiative already paying dividends

New movement to promote equity, inclusion inspires NCAA players, coaches

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he looks at the creation of the new College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative.

When Jennifer Costa saw the video of George Floyd dying with a knee firmly pressed against his neck while in custody of Minneapolis police in May 2020, she thought about her father, John Costa.

"My dad is Black and learning about how George Floyd was killed, the brutal manner in which it was done, it really made me fear for my dad's safety," said Costa, captain of the Dartmouth College women's hockey team. "I really wanted to express how I was feeling and see how I can use my platform as a Division I athlete to help change, whether it's change in general, social and racial injustices in general, or specifically in hockey."

Costa, a senior forward, hopes to convert her emotions into action as a member of a newly formed College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee. The committee is comprised of 27 players, coaches and administrators from all 11 NCAA Division I hockey conferences.

The committee's mission, according to its website, is to "create meaningful change and improve diversity, equity and inclusion within our sport."

"We intend to build upon the work of our institutions and partner with other organizations committed to these efforts to affect change in college hockey so that our sport may become a better version of itself," the mission statement reads. "We will approach this challenging and necessary work just like we play our game: one shift at a time."

For Costa, that means having potentially uncomfortable conversations with teammates about racial and social justice issues and talks with some family members to try to shatter myths and stereotypes about people of color in hockey.

"I've had family members ask me in the past year why am I playing hockey, like it doesn't make sense for me to play hockey," said Costa, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island, native whose father is from Cape Verde and mother is from Costa Rica. "The thought of Black people in a rink -- 'it's too cold for Black people to be in a rink.' I've had family members say that."

University of Nebraska-Omaha assistant Paul Jerrard, one of the few Black coaches in NCAA hockey, said he hopes the committee's work will help increase awareness of social issues within the college game and to help "make our sport a very welcoming sport to all different people, races, economic levels, sexual preferences."

"From my end, the big push here is to help people of color get an opportunity," said Jerrard, a former defenseman who played five games with the Minnesota North Stars in 1988-89 and was an assistant with the Calgary Flames (2016-18) and Dallas Stars (2011-13). 
"That's one of the things I've taken a lot pride in in my whole career -- whether as a player or a coach, I want to be a positive role model to people, not just people of color but to all people."

Ayodele Adeniye, a freshman defenseman at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said joining the committee has inspired him to try to reach out beyond his campus to attract more players to the sport.

Adeniye began playing the game with the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, a Hockey Is For Everyone affiliate in Ohio.

"Coming from that and actually being able to play NCAA hockey is amazing and I just want to be able give other people the opportunity to be able do that who are not from hockey backgrounds," he said. "I'm going to start going to the Boys & Girls Club in Huntsville to teach kids how to play street hockey. It might not be ice hockey, but it might be a little easier for them to start and bring them into the game."

Nikki Harnett, a University of New Hampshire sophomore goalie and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said she wants to use her seat on the committee to work on changing the locker room culture in college hockey and beyond.

"I play women's hockey now, but I grew up playing men's hockey and boys' hockey and I know what goes on in those locker rooms," Harnett said. "I want our culture change to be so deep that it changes what people talk about when they think nobody is listening."

Marshall Warren, a Boston College sophomore defenseman selected by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round (No. 166) of the 2019 NHL Draft, said he was excited to join the committee to help make change in a sport that has "brought so much happiness in my life" despite "a few instances where I have been discriminated against for the color of my skin."

But he, like other committee members, said that change won't happen overnight.

"I think it's going to take a long time to really, really get a lot of stuff going, but it starts small," Warren said. "We can start with college and work our way up. It's about getting people to understand, to learn."

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