Tracey McCants Lewis had just begun her new job as deputy general counsel and director of human resources for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year when she saw an article about the Black Girl Hockey Club and founder Renee Hess.
It gave her an idea.
"I read the story about Renee having a [BGHC] meetup with the Washington Capitals and read more about her, found out that she was a huge Penguins fan," McCants Lewis said. "And I was like, 'This is a no-brainer. I'm going to reach out to this woman and' -- I didn't know if I could do this or not -- 'present to the Penguins that we host a meetup for Renee and her club.'"
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The idea led McCants Lewis and Delvina Morrow, the Penguins director of strategic and community initiatives, to become the driving forces behind the team's first-ever Black Hockey History Day on Jan. 31, an event that included Black Girl Hockey Club members attending a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a visit by the NHL Black Hockey History Tour presented by American Legacy mobile museum and a screening of "Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future," the 2015 documentary on black hockey.
McCants Lewis and Morrow are among a growing number of women of color working in key positions in the NHL and other hockey organizations and impacting the sport.
"Today, women of color are driving forces behind consciousness, culture and commerce," said Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs and one of the highest-ranking black women executives in professional sports. "Hockey has entered a new era of inclusion, and these women -- whether in the locker room or the board room -- are agents of change who will help chart a course for the sustainable growth of our sport."
Tracey McCants Lewis and Delvina Morrow (Photo courtesy: Ken Kiriakopoulos/Pittsburgh Penguins)
The roster of women of color influencing the game includes Buffalo Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula, who is co-chair of the NHL's Diversity and Inclusion Senior Leadership Council, and Sheila Johnson, a member of the Capitals' minority ownership group, president and managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, and an executive producer of "Willie," the documentary about Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL.
McCants Lewis and Morrow each joined the Penguins last year; NHL Seattle hired Kendall Tyson-Boyd in May 2019 as vice president for strategy and analytics; Lea del Rosario became New York Islanders senior vice president for human resources in November 2019; Chanell Autrey became senior director of governmental and community affairs for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Capitals, in October 2019; and the Los Angeles Kings hired former National Women's Hockey League player Blake Bolden as a pro scout in January. She is believed to be the first black female pro scout for an NHL team.
Outside the NHL, USA Hockey tapped Stephanie Jackson in June 2019 to be its first director of diversity and inclusion; Kelsey Koelzer, a former NWHL No. 1 draft pick, was hired in October 2019 as coach of the new women's hockey program at Arcadia University, an NCAA Division III school outside Philadelphia, making her the first black person to head an NCAA hockey program at any level; Erica Ayala has provided analysis and interviews on NWHL live-streamed games for the past three seasons; and Erie of the Ontario Hockey League named Kiana Scott as a bantam scout Tuesday, making her the first female scout in the OHL.
"There are a significant number of women who love hockey, who love playing hockey, and who are very excited about the opportunity to be part of the businesses and organizations that help make hockey a fun pastime here in [North] America," Autrey said. "When you have that diverse perspective at the table, and to have that interest, it just kind of helps expand opportunities for other women as well as it helps to show how the sport is evolving and changing."
Video: Tracey and Delvina are Making Hockey Happen
David Morehouse, chief executive officer and president of the Penguins, said he wasn't just looking for visible diversity when he hired McCants Lewis, a Duquesne University associate law professor and former human resources director for Pittsburgh's Peoples Gas Company, and Morrow, who was director of major programs and initiatives for the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Rather, he wanted diversity of thought and experience beyond hockey to help the Penguins in their community initiatives and development projects in the Pittsburgh area.
"Tracey grew up in one of the neighborhoods we are trying to help," Morehouse said. "No matter how much time we spend in community meetings, no matter how much time we spend in creating hockey programs for minority children, we don't have the firsthand experience that Tracey does."
Morehouse nearly offered Morrow a job on the spot after watching how she conducted business at a technology event he attended last year.
"Diversity had nothing to do with me hiring her. I hired her because of how hard a worker she was," he said. "She was fixing problems. I saw her organizational skills, I saw her poise, I saw how well-spoken she was to an audience of CEOs from around the region."
Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, said he's been impressed by what Jackson, who formerly worked in diversity and inclusion communications with Nike, has brought to the organization as it tries to keep pace with the sport's increasing diversity.
"She brings a perspective that, frankly, we don't have - someone of color who wants to help make other people understand different perspectives," he said. "She's jumped into an area that's really challenging but has done a really good job in learning about USA Hockey and helping us learn what we can do to assist people in our world to be more understanding and more aware of the diversity of the population and how we can be more impactful in hockey."
Kim Davis, EVP, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs of the NHL
Jackson didn't have a direct role in USA Hockey's decision in October to stiffen the penalty for using racial and derogatory slurs from a game misconduct to a match penalty, which carries a five-minute penalty and disqualification from the game in which it occurs. But Kelleher said she helped influence the decision by informing USA Hockey officials of occurrences of racist language and slurs that were used at games that weren't officially reported to the nation's hockey governing body.
"That kind of added up in our thought process," Kelleher said. "She helped bring some of these things to be more front-of-mind for us probably. Stephanie was helpful, for sure, to us in saying 'Hey, these things are happening and more so than maybe get reported."
Hockey remains a predominately white male sport on the ice and in the executive suites. A review by The Athletic this past November found that men hold 96 percent of the hockey operations jobs. But Morrow and other women say that's starting to change and that they're proud to be at the forefront of the shift.
"Hockey as a sport is starting to become more diverse," she said. "When you look at the fans, they are becoming more and more diverse. And I think it's important to have staff and leadership that also reflects that base."