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Commissioner Bettman outlines course of action for inclusion, diversity

NHL ready, willing to facilitate change, won't tolerate abusive behavior

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- When I launched my Color of Hockey blog seven years ago this month, I dedicated it to hockey fans and people of color who love this game and enjoy witnessing change, especially one that reflects the shifting demographics in North America.

Since then, I've chronicled the history and growing impact of people of color in the game from the NHL to youth hockey, from players, to broadcasters, to those in team and league management.

The revelations related to the actions of former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters has been an unsettling episode for those who want to fully embrace the NHL and the sport in general but have questions about the commitment to diversity and inclusion.

 

[RELATED: Bettman: NHL 'will not tolerate abusive behavior']

 

Commissioner Gary Bettman responded to those questions at the NHL Board of Governors meeting Monday with a clear message: That "physical abuse and racial and homophobic language cross the line" and will not be tolerated.

By outlining a course of action, Commissioner Bettman reinforced that Hockey Is For Everyone and the League's Declaration of Principles aren't hollow slogans.

"Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords, they are foundational principles for the NHL," Commissioner Bettman said. "Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind."

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL must and will do more to fulfill that promise. Change is coming, he said, and at an accelerated pace.

"While we have taken many important steps forward on diversity and inclusiveness, as well as respect and professionalism in hockey, we intend to do more and faster," Commissioner Bettman said. "We want hockey to be a place where people are comfortable and that they can be included, no matter who they are and what their backgrounds are."

Video: Bettman on new professional conduct review processes

Some elements of Commissioner Bettman's plan are immediate, such as putting teams on notice that they must immediately inform the League office when they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel "on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive," or expect to face "severe discipline" for failure to do so.

Other elements will take time, such as the creation of a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion for all head coaches, minor league coaches under contract with NHL teams, assistant coaches, as well as general managers and their assistants.

So too will the establishment of a system -- Bettman said perhaps a hotline -- that will allow people to report inappropriate conduct to the NHL either anonymously or for attribution.

What makes all this so important? It shows the League is evolving much in the way its players and fan base are changing.

Quietly accepting the status quo or going along to get along for fear of reprisal or seeing career aspirations stalled isn't going to work in the 21st century -- in this business or any other.

Commissioner Bettman's remarks and actions show the NHL understands that and is aware of the responsibility it has to facilitate change, and not just in the 31-team league.

"As one of the preeminent professional sports leagues in the world and the preeminent hockey league in the world, we recognize and embrace our role in setting an example," Commissioner Bettman said.

Change doesn't come easy, but it doesn't come at all if you don't try.

"This is an opportunity and a moment for positive change, and this evolution should be expedited for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love," Commissioner Bettman said.

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