You hear the term hockey culture used a lot in our sport. Often, it’s a flattering term, or even a badge of honor. Lay your body on the line to block a shot? Give credit to others for your personal accomplishment? These are no-brainers for hockey players. It’s part of the culture.
But in my 40-plus years involved with this game, I’ve come to learn that hockey culture is not entirely positive. Along with everything that makes this the greatest sport in the world – the camaraderie, the sacrifice, the joy of scoring a goal, just to name a few – there are still fundamental problems.
In many ways, hockey is grappling with the same issues as our society at large. There are significant barriers to entry for minority or underprivileged youths. Those who do take up the sport risk entering a locker room that does not welcome them – no matter what level of play. And there is a serious lack of diversity in leadership positions.
I have experienced all those things first-hand, and it is disappointing that hockey still falls short in these important areas. But I have always been someone who sees the positive in a situation. For every problem, there is an opportunity for a solution.
That is why NBC Sports and I are launching Hockey Culture, a multi-platform content offering whose sole purpose is to champion equality and inclusivity at all levels of the sport. We plan to use this space to address problematic topics on and off the ice, improve the diversity of the game, and create more engagement in communities where hockey isn’t as accessible.
It is appropriate that the launch of Hockey Culture coincides with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, because the path these 16 teams are about to embark on can in some ways be compared to the one facing the hockey community as it confronts these systemic issues. In both cases, success is not easy, and it is certainly not a given. It must be earned through a combination of teamwork, effort, resilience, and perhaps most importantly, delivering in key situations.
Changing the culture of this sport is a daunting proposition, but I am ready to meet the challenge head-on. As a player, the biggest moments always brought out the best in me, and I think that was because I never thought about what would happen if we lost. I only focused on how great things would be when we won.
What’s especially encouraging is that I know I’m not in this alone. That became clear to me right after the murder of George Floyd, when I reached out to dozens of prominent individuals affiliated with the game to be a part of this social justice video. Man or woman, player or executive, Black or white – everyone in that video was willing and eager to participate. The hockey community is aware of the issues that plague our society and won’t tolerate them any longer.
Today, as we launch Hockey Culture, I am confident that there will be a time when our sport can truly say that it is for everyone, and I’m thrilled about the content we have planned to help make this a reality.
Find Hockey Culture on YouTube
On our dedicated YouTube channel, YouTube.com/HockeyCulture, you’ll find a number of interviews and features available right now, including:
- Ryan Reaves, the Vegas Golden Knights forward who many view as the NHL’s toughest player. We discuss his role on the ice, his family’s history working in law enforcement, and his newest off-ice endeavor: owning a craft brewery
- Xavier Gutierrez, the newly appointed CEO of the Arizona Coyotes – the first Latino to hold that position in NHL history
- Stories on Renee Hess and her rapidly growing Black Girl Hockey Club, the Detroit Ice Dreams youth hockey program, and the connection between the El Paso Rhinos junior hockey team and the city’s predominantly Hispanic population
We will be adding new interviews on a weekly basis, so if you subscribe to that channel you’ll get notified as soon as they are published. Upcoming episodes will feature J.T. Brown (Minnesota native, current Wild forward, and a leading activist for racial equality), Eustace King (a prominent Black NHL player agent), Kelsey Koelzer (the first Black female head coach in NCAA hockey history), Harnarayan Singh (Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi broadcaster), and much more. There will be written pieces in the future as well, which we will feature on NBCSports.com/NHL.
Our sport has reached a critical juncture. Hopefully these conversations will help Hockey Culture chart a better course for the game we all love so much.