Akim Aliu, pro hockey player and the co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, has signed a multiyear partnership deal with Adidas Canada to "remove barriers and bring about transformative change" in hockey.
Aliu will be a brand ambassador for Adidas, while the sports apparel company will work with him on various diversity and inclusion initiatives.
"Being born in Africa, growing up in Ukraine, coming here and living on welfare for years ... I have a hard time believing this to be true. This is just absolutely surreal for me," Aliu told ESPN. "I've always taken pride in making sure my partnerships are authentic and organic, but I always bring it back to what we're doing for the community and the next generation."
The partnership comes at an interesting time for both parties. As ESPN first reported, Adidas will not return as the NHL's uniforms and apparel supplier when their contract expires after the 2023-24 season. Aliu, meanwhile, hasn't appeared in a professional hockey game since the 2019-20 season, but the 33-year-old said he's planning on continuing his playing career.
"They know it's a passion of mine. I'm wired to play. That's my biggest love in the world. But at the same time, it's about the legacy we leave. About making a path that's a lot smoother than what we through," he said.
It's what Aliu has done off the ice that led to this partnership. In 2019, he sparked a firestorm in hockey when he accused Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters of directing racial slurs toward him "several times" when both were with the AHL Rockford Ice Hogs in the 2009-10 season. Peters would eventually resign from the Flames.
Aliu would go on to cofound the HDA in June 2020 with several NHL players of color, including Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and Flames center Nazem Kadri. The HDA works independent of the NHL and has been critical of the diversity policies of the League and its teams in the past.
"I speak on things in a different way than most hockey players," said Aliu. "I speak on things head on. I pride myself on making people uncomfortable because that's how you drive change."
The HDA recently backed an anti-racism hockey tape initiative and has created youth hockey clinics in Canada for underserved communities. Aliu said Adidas will support those efforts as part of this deal.
"It's going to be heavily tied into the work I'm doing with the HDA and my Time to Dream Foundation. Swag for the programs and the kids involved in them. We're also going to do a lot around mental health, which we're shooting some content for over the next couple of weeks," he said.
Alim Dhanji, president of Adidas Canada, said "the impact Akim has made to push for transformative change to address intolerance and advocate for change is truly inspiring, and we're excited to support diversity and equality initiatives together as partners."