The NHL and the NHL Players Association have launched a new Inclusion Committee aimed at diversifying hockey and making the sport more welcoming for everyone.

The committee, unveiled on Tuesday, is made up of current and former male and female players as well as representatives of minorities and the LGBTQ community.

The NHL Player Inclusion Coalition is the latest step in a process that began in the summer of 2020, when the US police killing of George Floyd led to a global review of issues of race and racism.

It also follows incidents across the NHL during Pride nights, when some players refused to wear rainbow-colored jerseys during warm-ups. The league has decided to remove the wearing of themed jerseys for the next season.

The 20-member coalition is chaired by former NHL players P.K. Subban and Anson Carter, both African Americans, and includes now-retired former American star player Meghan Duggan, who is openly lesbian.

Duggan, who now serves as director of player development for the New Jersey Devils, wants to be at the forefront of helping a sport that has traditionally been slow to respond to social changes within society.

“Ignorance is no longer an excuse,” Duggan argued. We have so many resources at our fingertips to understand. Education is there for people to understand, not necessarily how exactly to relate to someone from a marginalized community, but simply how they can be an ally. »

The coalition begins operations with a budget of US$1 million to be used for contributions to core programs, education, and other special projects. Duggan called the group, which also includes current players Sarah Nurse and Abby Roque, to be “action driven” and not just about running meetings to complain about what’s wrong with diversity and inclusion in sport.

This action means not only giving money to underserved communities, but also reaching out to them and showing why hockey is made for them. It’s a task that could take a generation to complete, so children and families are the focus.

“We need to make it a safe and nurturing environment so parents understand it’s a safe place to put their kids,” said former player Jamal Mayers, who is part of the group. If they don’t think it’s a safe and nurturing place, they certainly won’t allow their child to go that route. It is therefore important and it is the responsibility of the league as the leader of the sport to ensure that it creates a safe and stimulating environment, so that parents feel there is an opportunity. »

Some of the work is also done at the professional level.

Duggan said an important first step three years ago was educating leaders about the need for minority and female representation in office. Meetings since then have focused on racial incidents in the minor ranks and Pride parties. Specifically, Duggan said she and fellow coalition member Mark Fraser spoke to Toronto Maple Leafs players about the issues surrounding Pride.

“It’s really about providing resources for players to engage with the community, express themselves, and have a voice,” Duggan noted. I’m pleased with some of the progress we’ve seen. I think we all know there is a long way to go, but action is being taken. »