Kim Davis - the NHL's senior executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives, and legislative affairs - expressed her belief in an article for NHL.com that while hockey "is not renowned for its diversity … it is nonetheless poised to become the most inclusive sport in the world."
A council co-chaired by Buffalo Sabres owner and team president Kim Pegula and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman aims to steer the game in that direction.
Pegula and Bettman lead the NHL's Executive Inclusion Council, a group comprised of owners, team presidents, and general managers geared toward ensuring diversity and inclusion within the league's organizations.
The Executive Inclusion Council will be supported by three committees dedicated to producing actionable plans to promote diversity among fans, NHL players, and within youth hockey.
The mission, Pegula said, is to provide gateways and messages of inclusivity at the youth level that will then be reinforced through all aspects of the sport.
"It hits on different areas because at the end of the day, we want to make sure there's consistent learning," Pegula said. "So, you get a kid who hears the message from parents, from their youth coach, and as they move up, whether they become a player or whether they become just a hockey fan, that it becomes a consistent message.
"I really like the model that's been laid out and I'm really excited now about getting others involved and hearing from them and what they feel they can do to move us forward."
Members from all corners of the NHL community spoke out after George Floyd was killed in police custody on May 25. Buffalo Sabres forward Jimmy Vesey and goaltender Linus Ullmark shared messages on social media in which they pledged to become educated on matters of racial injustice. Several others supported "Blackout Tuesday," an online protest and show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sabres players also participated as audience members during a panel presented to employees of all Pegula Sports and Entertainment entities titled "Listen, Learn, Love." Panelists included former Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, director of player engagement and alumni Marlon Kerner, and local pastor and advocate Ken Simmons. The five men shared personal stories of discrimination and offered effective ways to move forward.
"I just thought it was great for everybody," Pegula said. "It didn't matter if you were a hockey player, if you were working in ticketing or marketing or wherever, you really got to be engaged and to connect with not a coach or a player, as real people with struggles, with racist experiences that many of us have not had to deal with. Staff were able to see them for who they are, not what they do as a job."
All these steps speak to a concerted effort by the hockey community to move toward inclusiveness by listening and acknowledging inequities. The next step is creating actions to produce change, a goal to which Pegula and her fellow members of the Executive Inclusion Council and its committees are dedicated.
"There are a lot of barriers, but I think we all realize that's not an excuse," Pegula said. "This isn't going to be fixed overnight, but we have started and will continue to work towards change by listening, learning and being deliberate about putting words into action.
"We know that our country is a diverse country and we have diverse people and we want to make sure we represent all of them. I think we have a lot of work to do, but I'm really happy that we're moving forward to eradicate racism and provide opportunities for all."