NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The NHL and its players' association on Tuesday announced the launch of the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition, a group of current and former NHL players and professional women's players that will work to advance equality and inclusion in hockey.
As part of the launch, the NHLPA and NHL have earmarked more than $1 million to support the coalition's programs through contributions to grassroots organizations and other projects.
The NHL Player Inclusion Coalition is co-chaired by former players Anson Carter and P.K. Subban. It has 20 members with a range of perspectives across players of color, LGBTQIA+ and allies.
"The more diverse the group is, the more ideas that are going to come out of it," said coalition member Ryan Reaves, who played for the Minnesota Wild last season. "I think that's the most important thing, is you have so many people from different backgrounds who played the sport, who haven't played the sport, who come from different cities, different cultures."
Coalition members have led and contributed to initiatives that have included conducting inclusion experiences and educational sessions for NHL on-ice officials, rookies and minor professional hockey; bringing voice to diversity and inclusion issues impacting hockey on personal platforms and networks; and leading and supporting hockey events to connect with and inspire underrepresented youth.
"Ryan was very vocal within our coalition that we need to get out in the community and make sure that we are putting our money where our mouth is, figuratively and literally," he said.
Throughout the 2022-23 season, coalition members selected an organization that supports diversity and inclusion in hockey to receive a $5,000 grant from the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition Action Fund. The organizations ranged from youth hockey programs in underserved communities to Seattle Pride Hockey Association to The Empowerment Effect, a mentorship program supporting young girls in hockey from underserved communities in the Los Angeles area.
Coalition members include Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers; Ethan Bear, Vancouver Canucks; Madison Bowey, Montreal Canadiens; Chris Kreider, New York Rangers; Zach Whitecloud, Vegas Golden Knights; Los Angeles Kings scout and ESPN personality Blake Bolden; former U.S. national team players Julie Chu and Meghan Duggan; current U.S. national team player Abby Roque; Team Canada's Sarah Nurse; 2023 Hockey Hall of Famer Caroline Ouellette; former NHL players J.T. Brown, Mark Fraser, Georges Laraque, Jamal Mayers, Al Montoya; and PWHPA player Brigette Lacquette.
Reaves and Shattenkirk, friends going back to their days with the St. Louis Blues, have some history with the NHL's push for inclusion.
That was on display in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, when NHL players from a variety of teams and backgrounds successfully urged the league to postpone two days of games after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Shattenkirk, then playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, reached out to Reaves to let him know a coalition of Eastern Conference players wanted to talk about postponing the games.
"At that time in the bubble, it was a time for me to take a step back and look at it from someone like Ryan's shoes and realize how much that affected him and anyone from that community," Shattenkirk said. "I felt a little ashamed actually that it came to that moment to really be that proactive. But it was something that I've been happy to be on board with now and hopefully make an impact in a positive way."
There was a lot of talk during that time about ways to make an impact. That talk continued when the NHL created the Player Inclusion Committee in September 2020 as part of "a comprehensive plan to fight against racism" and to "make our sport and our league more welcoming and inclusive." Members of that committee met regularly to develop recommendations for the NHL's Executive Inclusion Council.
The NHL Player Inclusion Coalition is the next evolution of that plan, going from one focused on recommending action to one taking action.
"If you're just talking about, you're not really doing much," Reaves said. "I think when you start a committee like that, you're just kind of spitballing, and nobody really knows the first step. You've got to form a plan first. If you just go out there and you're just trying to do something haphazardly, it's going to look lazy. It's not going to get the message across properly. So I think that's why you see us going from the committee to the coalition."
As part of the $1 million commitment, through support from the NHL/NHLPA Industry Growth Fund, a $750,000 NHL Player Inclusion Coalition Action Fund has been established to further the group's mission by directing resources toward grassroots programs that welcome and celebrate diverse hockey audiences.
Reaves said it's essential to grow the sport by showing potential fans and players that hockey is diverse.
"There are so many kids out there that have seen hockey and have just shied away from it strictly because they don't see anybody that looks like them on the ice," Reaves said. "But it is a lot easier if you see these players more often, especially players who look like me, going out into communities and actually talking to these kids. It is one thing for Shatty to go out into a Black community or a community of color and say, 'Hey, come out to these hockey games.' But Shatty doesn't look like these guys. But if I stroll in there and I've got earrings in, I've got J's on. It's like, 'This guy looks like me, kind of talks like me. Well, maybe this sport is for me.' And I think that's really important."
The announcement of the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition comes several days after the league said that teams will no longer wear specialty jerseys during warmups, after several players were scrutinized for refusing to wear Pride Night sweaters last season.
The NHL specialty jersey ban includes jerseys that teams have worn for Black History Month, Women's History Month, Military Appreciation Night, Hockey Fights Cancer, as well as more localized celebrations such as San Jose's Hispanic Heritage Night. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that specialty nights will continue to be held and that teams can still create jerseys to be auctioned off.
"Obviously a tricky situation," Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said at Monday's NHL Awards. "I think guys should have the right to do what they want. I think that the thing that is disappointing is when you had players who decided not to wear the jersey for warmup, that they were the headline of the story. It wasn't 98% or 99% of other players that wore the jersey and enjoyed wearing it and were proud wearing it -- whatever jersey it was, whether it was the Pride, the military night, the cancer nights. Guys take a lot of pride in wearing those types of jerseys."