Last spring and into the summer, a series of events caused the nation to, at the very least, take pause and think about what was happening. For many, making a statement consisting of a few paragraphs wasn't enough. Individuals in the Predators front office were among those who wanted to do something more to make a difference and change the dynamic, starting within their own four walls of Bridgestone Arena.
So, a handful of employees met for lunch and had a discussion. What started as an idea over salads and sandwiches two months ago has turned into an internal board the likes of which the company has never seen. Predators Director of Corporate Sponsorship Robin Lee was one of those at the table for the midday brainstorming session, and she offered a perspective that differs from many in the sport.
Lee knows there aren't many in hockey who look like she does. As a black woman, it took a bit of time for her to get comfortable when she started working for the Preds in July of 2013. But once she settled in and began to realize the true fabric of the organization, she knew she had found the right spot. That feeling has been reaffirmed on countless occasions over the past few months, especially as she worked with her colleagues to begin this new endeavor.
"I love the fact that our organization is 100 percent behind this," Lee said. "It made me feel good to know that the people who are at the top of our organization are saying, 'lead the way, and we'll figure it out.' So, for me, I could not be prouder of our organization, and I'm so excited to be a part of this."
The initiative is called GUIDER, a board headed up by four Preds employees - including Lee - designed to evaluate the internal programs and practices the organization is currently operating and identify areas of improvement.
In the idea's infancy, the group met virtually with Kim Davis, the NHL's executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. That conversation included a number of enlightening topics, but the name GUIDER started when Davis made a suggestion.
"When we sat down with Kim, she said, 'The first thing I would suggest is do not call it the Diversity Team. If your goal and what you want to accomplish is more than a diversity team, that title limits you. I think you need to look at what you want to accomplish, and then take your name from that.' And so, after that call with Kim Davis, we all sat down and said, 'Well, what do we want to accomplish?'" The answers to that question were plentiful, and soon after, GUIDER was born.
An acronym that represents everything the board believes in, GUIDER stands for growth, understanding, inclusion, diversity, equality and representation. The purpose of the board is to utilize Predators resources, relationships and influences to implement change in the four areas the franchise can affect - its staff, its fans, the Nashville community and the sport of hockey.
"By definition, a guider is to lead and to show the way and that's what we want to do is to be able to be a leader in our community and in our office," Lee said. "If we're talking about how we can affect change in our own building, this group is going to have to lead that process. If we're going to talk about changing our community, we have to lead that process too."
One of those changes could begin in Nashville's front office with the organization's internship program. The Predators have always been fond of hiring graduates of the program for full-time positions whenever possible, but the candidate pool hasn't always been diverse.
"We do not have many minorities in our internship program, not because we've turned them away, but because they maybe, for whatever reason, don't feel like this is of interest to them, that hockey is of interest to them," Lee said. "We want to go after those groups and make sure they know that they can intern with the Preds and with the NHL."
Another of the pillars involves those who attend games at Bridgestone Arena. Lee says the team may set aside a group of tickets to bring people into the building who may not fit the typical profile of a hockey fan and let them experience a game. That then flows back down to the youth hockey level and finding ways for children of different backgrounds and cultures to experience playing the game. That particular change won't happen overnight, but in due time, those boys and girls might just develop a lifelong love for the sport.
When the GUIDER board was introduced internally in the Predators front office, Lee couldn't keep up with all of the emails, texts and phone calls she received from her peers wanting to be involved. Those who were interested came expressing a desire to be a positive force for change, even though it may not be immediately clear exactly what that looks like.
But that's the beauty of an initiative like this - it will grow and evolve over time, just like we do in society. Because statements aren't enough anymore. It's time for action.
"We are so much bigger than 17,000 people in a building watching a game," Lee said. "It's our responsibility to use the influence that we have, the relationships that we have to make sure that we are bettering our organization and our community in a way that everyone can be proud of."