Jordan: If you’ve ever listened to this podcast, you probably know I’m a firm believer in the idea that sports can both reflect and change our world. So in this, a special episode of The Big Story, Arash Madani of Sportsnet is going to host a discussion of racism and activism in sports. The games that we love have been at the forefront of many waves of social change and they have the power to bring us together for a common cause. From John Carlos’s has raised fist at the Olympics to Colin Kaepernick’s brave protest that cost him his job. Arash is going to explore athletes, activism, and what needs to happen now, if real progress is going to be made. So please enjoy A Turning Point and we will be back with a brand new Big Story on Monday.
Arash: Welcome to A Turning Point, our special presentation. My name is Arash Madani from Sportsnet. It has now been more than four weeks since George Floyd was murdered nearly a month. Since we all watched him take his last breath. It feels like so much is different, but real actionable change– that takes time. Many who took to the streets in protests have now resumed their daily lives. So now it seems appropriate to discuss how sport will handle affairs moving forward. As North American teams and leagues continue their return to play processes, it is vital that the conversations and promises made when the racial issue was hottest, that they do not go away. In a few moments we will welcome in our panel to discuss how that should happen. But first, a look at how we got here in the first place.
News Clip- Kaepernick: People of colour have been targeted by police. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.
Arash: The point he was making, got twisted from the start. In the beginning when Colin Kaepernick first made his public protest peacefully, he first sat on the bench during the national Anthem to bring awareness.
News Clip- Kaepernick: There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically is police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable.
Arash: It was the summer of 2016 when he first truly used his platform as an NFL quarterback to speak out against systemic racism by police. In the weeks leading into that preseason game in San Francisco, Kaepernick had watched what we all had. Two white officers bending down to Alton Sterling and pumping six bullets into his chest and back. He saw that traffic stop in Minnesota when Philando Castille was killed in front of his girlfriend and child. And Kaepernick could not understand how mental health therapist, Charles Kinsey, could be shot by police when he was lying on the ground with his arms up in the air.
News Clip- Kaepernick: People of colour have been targeted by police. Cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.
Jordan: And yet from the beginning, the why in Kaepernick’s pregame gesture was misrepresented and downright manipulated. The cries came that he was disrespecting the flag, that it was a slap in the face to military personnel. But when active soldiers pointed out, they serve to provide their citizens with the freedom of speech that Kaepernick was exercising, that narrative quickly was quashed. When army veterans who had been in battle echoed that very sentiment, out of national football league buildings came these.
News Clip: I would be disappointed if any of our players didn’t stand up for the national anthem, personally. I look at that as a salute to the people who have paved the way for us. Our organization believes that you should pay respect to the flag. So, save those individual decisions to express yourself for an individual forum.
Arash: And that became the prevalent message. Don’t do it here. Stick to sports. The underlying tone? How dare you protest without our approval. Where do you get off, Colin Kaepernick, criticizing anyone in another uniform?
News Clip: This is America, alright? The men and women bleed for this. I’ve seen it firsthand. And for somebody to do that, to get paid millions of dollars, it’s ridiculous.
Arash: Kaepernick remained undeterred. United States Army Vet, Nate Boyer, who did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan encouraged him to kneel, and not sit. By taking a knee, Boyer told him, you show your respect for fallen brothers that way. So Kaepernick did, and then more NFL players followed. And yet the public and political conversation in the US would not steer toward police brutality, no matter how much these star athletes peacefully attempted to. And the leader in America’s biggest chair? He made sure of it.
News Clip- Trump: Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now out. He’s fired! He’s fired!
Arash: Kaepernick became a source of division for standing up against injustice. He hasn’t taken a snap since that 2016 season. And at this year’s Super Bowl, USA Today’s Jarrett Bell minced no words on why that is.
News Clip- Jarrett Bell: I think it’s pretty obvious he’s been blackballed. For Colin Kaepernick not to have a job is just, it’s the worst look for the NFL.
Arash: No conversation was more dominant inside NFL locker rooms that season than the Kaepernick one. Teams are made up of players of all ages, of all backgrounds, of so many ethnicities. If you actually want to listen to different perspectives, if you’re an athlete who would want to hear what your peers had to say, there would be no shortage of takes to soak in. But fundamentally the want would be to understand Kaepernick’s fundamental point. After George Floyd, one of the league’s biggest stars reminded us that many still didn’t.
News Clip: I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.
Arash: Maybe that was the crossroads moment. Because the reaction to it felt like something had changed. Almost as if that won’t cut it anymore, Drew. Brees and the rest of the NFL were told right away. The New Orleans quarterback came under fire. The players in the league had just about enough of the establishment silence. They had heard Kaepernick’s message. They were not going to let owners and Roger Goodell get away with it this time.
Clip: What if I was George Floyd? If I was George Floyd? If I was George Floyd? I am George Floyd. I am Breonna Taylor. I am Ahmaud Arbery. I am Tamir Rice. I am Trayvon Martin.
Brees’s all pro receiver found Dallas’s bruising runner and Houston’s electrifying quarterback and Kansas City’s Superbowl MVP and OBJ and they all let you know: We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.
Arash: To have Patrick Mahomes, the next great superstar of the NFL front and centre, that was massive. And the very next night, the commissioner uttered the words you never imagined would happen.
Clip: We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier. And encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter.
Arash: Progress? Probably. A step forward? You want to believe so. The day after the commissioner changed his tune, Brees went to social media. Again, he’d already made his hollow apologies without actually saying sorry. And he finally seemed to be listening to what some teammates had to say. And after all of that, even Drew Brees somewhat stood up to the president. It won’t change Donald Trump, of course. But maybe it will make others think. Perhaps it will create more uncomfortable conversations to allow for a greater understanding among all of us. And at the very least it has given others throughout sport to have the freedom to finally say their piece. Hoping, believing, they may at last the heard.
Clip: Our country is in trouble. And the basic reason is race. You’re seeing an example of a future that’s fighting for you. For you. Right now, I’m fighting for you. I got a grandfather that marched next to Dr. King in the sixties. And he was amazing. He would be proud to see us all here. We got to keep pushing forward.
Arash: Dwane Casey marched with his family and members of Detroit’s organization, an NBA coach using his voice and platform. Over in Jacksonville, Jaguars’s personnel were among the demonstrators. And North Philly’s finest? He walked too. Kyle Lowry’s weekend priorities were set. This though, this is just the start. The silence of countless athletes is spoken loudly. Until you see action from them, and don’t forget, by the leagues themselves, we wonder what the real commitment to progress actually is. What Kaepernick’s protest was about from the beginning can no longer be debated. And it is now crystal clear to all of us that no athlete should just shut up and dribble. Nelson Mandela famously said, sport has the power to change the world. Since George Floyd, perhaps we have learned the change can come more from our sporting icons using their voice platform and pursuit for justice, than any jumper or swing or goal or touch down. Stick to sports? Sure. Let’s stick to sports bettering the world in a new way. Let’s start hearing the real message now. And most of all, let’s not get the words and actions like Kaepernick’s twisted when he tried to begin the real conversation only four years ago. Let’s continue the conversation here on a turning point, thrilled to welcome Dr. John Carlos, who stood on the metal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He stood with his feet, this and a leather glove lifted in the air. And also with us Howard Bryant, an ESPN writer and author of the book Full Dissidence. Guys, thank you so much for the time. Howard, John, so much has wound down. The attention is a little bit less than it was earlier this month. In your minds, how does sport take the next step for actionable change? Howard, let’s start with you.
Howard: Well, first, thanks for having me on the show. It’s good to see you again, Arash. I feel that we’re not in the aftermath yet. I think that, that’s the first thing. Where are we in this story? And obviously I think that when I think about tangible change, that’s the key word, tangible. What is actually going to change, what’s going to be done? And I think there are so many different areas where there is movement for change. And obviously John can talk about this way more than I can from personal experience. But to me, the number one thing that I think we need to do, and that has to happen in this industry, is you cannot punish athletes, and especially Black athletes, the way that they have over the past 50 years. I’ve been asking myself this question, and I’ve been asking it of readers in my books, which is why is the punishment so high for advocating for Black people? Why is the price your entire career? And I think it’s something that people don’t pay nearly enough attention to. And I think that when you talk about structural change, you cannot sanction people with their careers for having an opinion and for advocating for African Americans.
Arash: Could this be the watershed moment, guys, in your mind? John, do you think in the aftermath of all of this, with the team saying what they did, with the league saying what they did, that athletes will not pay the personal consequence that you and Tommy Smith and so many others, including Kaepernick, have made?
John: Oh, it’s necessary to make the personal sacrifice, mainly because these are just deeds and words. We have to see tangible evidence that they are serious about making the adjustments and necessary changes to have a level playing field. You know, for instance, you do, uh, Bank of America said, we’re going to throw out a billion dollars. What does that mean? Does that mean that you’re about making change or does it mean that you’re trying to buy me? I just like to know what the name mean in terms of change. As for the athletes, as for the individuals that’s marching in the streets, we have to come to the round table and decipher what we want and put it down to negotiation.
Arash: When we return on a turning point, the NFL’s most influential owner has remained silent through all of this. Our panel on why Jerry Jones must do more than just take a knee again, if he and league leadership actually care to create actionable change.
Is this a turning point? Could it finally be the time where there is a commitment to change by leaks in pro sports franchises? Welcome back to the program as we reintroduce Howard Bryant of ESPN and Dr. John Carlos, who protested on the metal podium at the 1968 Olympics. John, let’s start with you because you wanted to touch on law and order in America.
John: I hear that a lot of police are resigning because the Chief took a knee or the Lieutenant took a knee. And you know, this thing can be resolved very easily. Behind the blue shield, individuals in that group, they know who the racist police are. They know who the bigots are on the police department, and all they have to do is weed them out.
Howard: It’s all about accountability, right? I mean, this is the thing that we talk about in every other part, in every other occupation. If I write a story about John and it’s full of lies, I get sued for libel. My career’s over. If John’s a doctor and he operates on the wrong leg, he gets sued for malpractice. Why is it that the police are the one industry where they’re completely indemnified by from their own corruption and their own mistakes? You have to be able to pay a price. If there’s no price, then there’s no professionalism. And then you become lawless, which is exactly what’s happened.
Arash: Let’s talk a little bit about the accountability on the sports side, guys, because we saw a whole bunch of black squares on Twitter and Instagram. We saw so many teams and leagues come out and say, we’re committed to this. But fundamentally, the people who have to be held accountable are the owners of pro sports franchises, because they’re the bosses of the commissioners of these leagues. Now let’s go back to four years ago. There probably isn’t a more influential owner in all of North American professional sports than Jerry Jones. What the Dallas Cowboys are, what they represent, and it was Jones who said, quote, “Our policy is that you stand at the Anthem toe on the line.” He later said, quote, “The priority is about the flag and be real clear about that.” So since George Floyd’s death, though, we haven’t been real clear on what Jerry Jones believes needs to be happening, because he hasn’t said much. So is the accountability now on Jones and the other owners to step forward?
John: When you sit back and you can think about Jerry Jones, Jerry Jones put his foot in his mouth, you might say, based on the fact that he’s considering the president’s views, opposed to looking at the issues that was in front of him, the various athletes for them taking a knee or to raise their fist. There was no compassion there. There was no concern about the athletes. We just going to hold you to the rule.
Howard: I actually tend to disagree with you a little bit, Arash. I think that they are very clear. And I think they’ve been very clear through their silence. I think that this is one of the reasons why you pay Roger Goodell all that money. So he takes the public criticism while the owners stay silent. No one has come out, the reason why they didn’t mention Colin Kaepernick by name is because they don’t want them in their game. There’s not a single owner ever since this happened, that has come out and said, Colin Kaepernick is welcome to play in the NFL. Not only is he welcomed to play in the NFL, but he’s welcome to play on my team. That has not happened in three years. And so to me that is extremely clear, that there is not a league– there’s not a corporation in America, as far as I’m concerned, that has been more unambiguous about how it felt about this situation than the National Football League. They’ve been extremely, extremely clear about this. So the way that they’ve done a bit, you know, the way they’ve done that sort of 180 tells me that they’re trying to find some ground where they can be on the right side of this, but they’re not. And then also I think the most important thing to consider is when you look at this ownership group, look at the money that they give to the Donald Trump campaign. They actually fund a lot of his election and his campaign and his inauguration. And so that tells you much, much more about where they stand. They’re caught in the middle of a public national movement, but they’re also extremely loyal to him and sympathetic to his positions.
Arash: Multiple NFL owners spent seven figures on Donald Trump’s inauguration. John?
John: Well, I was just getting ready to say this situation with Mr. Kaepernick is parallel to what happened to Muhammad Ali. Based on his views, just political views, his social views, in terms of how they tried and stripped him of his opportunity to support himself, through his profession. This tactic is not a new tactic, what they’ve done to Mr. Kaepernick. So when you sit back and you say, Show me that you’re genuine in terms of saying, we made a mistake, don’t just give me the sympathy that you made a mistake. Show me how you’re genuine with this. Mr. Kaepernick should have a job you should see, as the commissioner that he has a job. Now, relative to how we get to the next level, as I stated, we all have to sit down and be practical about the situation that we in and try and make it a little stride to stamp out this thing called racism.
Arash: Yeah, it felt– that’s an interesting point that you make John and further to Howard’s sentiment about finding that common ground. Look, Colin Kaepernick hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL game since 2016. Hasn’t taken a snap in any organized football game since the 2016 season. So, you know, colour me cynical. When I see headlines like the one on Monday, when I see Goodell supports and encourages teams to sign Kaepernick. But what’s the common ground here, the realistic common ground here, that in your minds, which show progress that the NFL, the Jerry Jones’ is of the world, and other leagues actually want to take this further? What would be some signs? What would be real progress, points, that to each of you– Howard, we’ll start with you– say, you know what, it’s not just lip service. They mean it because they’re showing us this.
Howard: Well, I think the first thing is, is that let’s not speak in pronouns. What is it? And that’s been the hardest thing to define. Obviously, when we’re talking about this very specific issue, which is protest, as I said earlier, I don’t think, I think you have to make it very clear. You’re not going to punish players with their careers by advocating a Black position or fighting police brutality or whatever the issue is. That’s the first thing. So the players don’t feel like they are sacrificing their entire livelihood for standing up for what’s right. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, when you look at the industry of sports, it depends on who’s getting hired? They think that is the big thing. What we all want is our jobs and opportunities to have a career. And when you look at the gap between who does the playing, and who does the coaching, and who signs the checks, huge, huge, enormous gap. And one of the big questions that we’re having when you’re looking at this whole culture thing right now is okay, African-Americans are 12% of the American population, but they’re 80% of the NFL. So are you representing that 12% of the culture, or are you reflecting the culture of who plays your sport? And that’s the hard part about sports because it’s dominated by African Americans that once you go away from what they do on the field, it turns right back into America, which is that you don’t have any opportunities there. So I think the first thing you do is you don’t punish players for having an opinion. And the second thing is your hiring policies have to reflect the industry that you’re in.
John: No those policies, I would think that they would consider making change by realizing, as you stated, there’s 80% Black participation in the NFL. What’s the percentage of Black ownership in the NFL? That would be a thrill. Fill the the gap tremendously by letting a Black ownership come about. Now when you sit back, you think for years, the NFL has been going on. We had to fight, I remember, just to get a Black coach. And we’re to the stage now where we have made so much headlines and views and capital gains for the NFL. And then when you sit back and look for ownership, we’re not recognized at the table.
Arash: Yeah, you think about Kaepernick. As of November of last year, 115 quarterbacks had been signed to teams since Kaepernick left the 49ers. And Howard, what you’re asking for really doesn’t sound like that much. Hey, if we want to make don’t blackball us. Don’t have us on the outside, looking in. Let’s have more people of colour. Let’s have more of a reflection on what our locker rooms look like be in the coaches’ offices.
Howard: But Arash, what are we really talking about here? If you look at the pyramid of professional sports, white owners, white coaches, white season ticket holders, white media, Black player. That’s the lens through which they’re talking about. The reason why the sanction is so severe is because the sport itself is pandering to the white season ticket holders and the white talk radio guys who run the radio shows and who run the media and all of it. So the only– the way that they’re funnelling their sport, isn’t through the player. Even though there’s a huge, huge financial revenue stream from Black consumers, but that’s not who they’re pandering to. So the real question is going to be, are you selling this sport to everybody, or are you selling this sport to the white Gentry that you actually think spends the most on the game? It really is, in a lot of ways, a money issue. If you had a huge number of Black season ticket holders, you don’t treat Black players this way because now you’re going to lose money.
Arash: Well, John, look, what happened to you, what happened to Muhammad Ali, what happened to so many Black athletes of the past is just unconscionable. But now I watched that video that the NFL players produced and I see Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes, I see Deshaun Watson, one of the faces of the league, OBJ who’s part of marketing campaigns, Michael Thomas, one of the dynamic receivers. When you see players of that stature speak out the way those guys did, for somebody who ultimately had to deal with what you had to deal with after 1968, what, what does that mean to you to see the superstars? Not just stars, not just pro ballers, but the mega stars of the league take that stance.
John: Well, when you sit back and you think, I think Mr. Smith was a megastar at the Olympic games, Mr. Norman was a megastar at the Olympic games, as well as Muhammad Ali was the mega star in the ring. So when you sit back and think, we were individuals at a time when we were so far and few in between, because we were so far ahead of ourselves, you might say. Now, when you sit back and think about what happened back 52 years ago, we were like the gardeners or the horticulturalists, we planted seeds. And I made a statement to them 50 years ago and said, if you think that John Carlos is a problem, because he wants to be recognized and respected as a man, if you think I’m a problem, wait for the next generation. Well the next generation is here. All these young individuals are aware of who they are, ethnically, socially morally, and they have no fears in terms of presenting themselves for the better, for the future, for their kids. Cause most of these guys are young as I was, 23 years old at the time. These individuals are 23. But I think they’re not focusing on themselves as much as they’re focusing on their children, their children’s peers, to make it better for them. They realize that their kid’s not going to jump up and be a superstar athlete just because they are. But they will never walk out of their skin. They will always be Black.
Arash: So a generation, maybe two generations ago, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor and Bill Russell and Mohammad Ali gathered. And now you have this group of athletes, not just NFL, but we’ve seen so many athletes from so many different sports who have protested and spoken and marched. Is this naive of me to think that if they continue to put their foot on the accelerator and to push for progress, and to push for conversations, that they will not be persecuted the way those in previous generations like John were? Is that naive of me or can that be realistic if you’re a star today?
John: No, persecution is part of the fabric. You’re gonna be persecuted because you stand up and say, “Hey man, get your foot off my neck.” You know, the problem has been in the past, many individuals had fear to offend their oppressors. You know, just like mr. Mr. Floyd is on the ground and this man is applying pressure to his neck. The same oppression that cop applied to his neck to take his life, we as citizens of this nation, or citizens of the world, which is humanity has the right to stand up and say, I can endure what you give me, but I’m not turning back. I’m not going back in time, as you told my father in the first World War, give us time, your day is coming. When I came to the Olympics, give us time, your day is coming. Mr. Kaepernick’s day, give us time, your day is coming. Well these kids are here saying, “My day is here and I’m not turning away. I’m gonna be here today, tomorrow, and the next day until we come to the table to make a difference in this society.”
Howard: The one difference, I will say, Arash, that I see, and John, I wonder how you feel about this too, is that the number of corporations that have gotten on board that had always been silent before. So now you’re starting to see the money change. When you see the money move, then the culture starts to move a little bit as well.
John: They have never, one time, and give me a one liner. When Macy’s, Target, Auto Zone, any major store in this United States of America, ever came out and made a one line statement about, I detest what is happening to Black people relative to law enforcement in this country. I detest the killing of these various individuals in this country. I detest the fact that they killed a young black kid in the park playing with a cap gun. I detest a woman dies in the jail alone by herself. I detest a man in the back of his police car with his hands tied behind his back, hand cuffed, and then all of a sudden you come up in here about he had a gun and he pulled it out and shot his brains out. I detest this. I’ve never heard of one major company in the world ever do that relative to the plight of people of colour, Blacks in particular, in this nation.
Arash: Well said. Mr. Carlos, Mr. Bryant, we appreciate the time, we appreciate the insight. We hope this is a turning point. Howard, I hear what you’re saying. I have the sense that right now, the voice of the athlete has never had as much influence today as it ever had before. That it carries more weight with commissioners, with leagues, with corporate America. That may lead to something moving forward.
John: Well what’s happening is the sleeping giant is waking up.
Arash: And perhaps it’s that last point from John Carlos that is worth digesting the most. If there is to be actionable change, that may very well be why. As we continue the conversation, where does hockey stand on the pursuit for progress? NHL executive vice president Kim Davis will share that with us when we return to A Turning Point. Nearly a month after George Floyd’s death, we bring you A Turning Point. Welcome back to the program. My name is Arash Madani. We’re exploring if it finally may be the time where leagues and pro sports franchises are actually committed to change. For years, we have heard stories of repulsive moments within the hockey culture, from parents in the stands when the kids play, down to a banana being thrown on the ice at Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers. So let’s welcome in Kim Davis, the National Hockey League’s Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. Kim, thank you for the time. You made the point back in February that you’d like to see Black players in the NHL not ignore the harsh realities of racism, but to rise above them, to show leadership for the next generation. That quote, Kim, really caught my eye. I was hoping you could elaborate on what you meant by that.
Kim: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for having me on the show. What I meant by that is exactly what we are seeing play out in front of our eyes as we experience, not only the COVID pandemic, but the racial pandemic that has again reared its ugly head in our society. So many of our players, both current and former, whether it’d be a Evander Kane or Joel Ward, or Matt Dumba, are taking a leadership role in talking about and leading their fellow players, their white partners, their white players, to understand what the anti-racism work is and what needs to happen in our sport in order for us to create a more welcoming inviting.
Arash: So what does need to happen in the sport of hockey Kim?
Kim: Well, I think I outlined it, or began to outline it, as we looked at our vision of making hockey for everyone. First, we have to acknowledge that we have areas of improvement and I think we are well doing that. I think we are beginning to reveal our vulnerabilities, to open ourselves to be listeners. I think we understand that at every rung of the hockey go system, there are areas of interest improvement, that the engagement has to be both top down and bottom up, that we need to have every year stakeholder involved from the youth level to the major-minor to professional, to sponsors and partners, that this has to be a holistic effort and that it is a journey, it’s not a sprint. This is going to take time.
Arash: You mentioned the youth level and major-minor. Kim Davis joins us on A Turning Point, the National Hockey League’s Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. That is the marketing campaign, that hockey is for everyone. But I’m more intrigued about the grassroots level. I mean, access to the game as a challenge, getting ice time as a challenge, equipment isn’t cheap. Yes, hockey is for everyone, but at that grassroots level, how can it be more of exactly that?
Kim: Well, I mean, we often talk about the barriers to access being purely socioeconomic. You know, it costs too much or their ice rink doesn’t exist. But I think that there are so many other ways that we can make our sport more welcoming. First of all, we have to remove the myth, or the false belief that race and ethnicity and income are inextricably linked. This, this notion that hockey for people of colour has somehow or another become synonymous with charity, which is not the case. The opportunity is for us to grow ourselves sport by engaging underrepresented groups, who, by the way, represent the growing demographic in our country and North America more broadly. I think that this one, when we talk about this, yes, we understand that access to ice is a issue, but we also know that street hockey is both an on ramp to ice hockey, but also a hockey ramp on to itself in terms of engaging kids, particularly in urban areas where they may not have had exposure to the sport. So there are many creative ways, and we’re exploring those ways, and we’re executing against those things that will make our sport more welcoming more broadly.
Arash: Which of those ways that you’ve explored have you seen some tangible benefits?
Kim: I think where we are really seeing some tangible benefits is the exposure of kids, both in rural and in urban centers, through ball and street hockey and deck hockey. If you look at the legacy project that we did at the All Star game in San Jose, where we left out a multimillion dollar deck rink, and exposing kids to hockey through that avenue, in a market like San Jose, where over 25% of the market, is Hispanic/ Latinx, I mean, this is a perfect example of how you bring new audiences to a sport where there may not be a lot of access to ice.
Arash: Kim Davis is with us on A Turning Point. She’s the NHL’s Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. Kim, one thing that athletes in so many sports talk about is that on the field, on the court, on the ice, there’s one representation in locker rooms and dressing rooms. And then in boardrooms and in coaching offices and in ownership levels there isn’t. In your mind, does it need to be a priority to have more people of colour in seats occupied by NHL governors at the board level and in front offices, you know, with hockey ops, and in the business department, and even on the bench as coaches and support stuff. Should that be, does that need to be a priority at the NHL level?
Kim: Of course it does. It has to be a priority in any business, if we’re going to grow the business. Representation counts. Everyone likes to see people that look like themselves as part of the inspiration and them being able to imagine themselves in those roles. When we look at statistics, a statistic like women of colour are the fastest growing part of the female demographic. And if we’re going to capture our share of that market segment, that talent base, then we are going to have to look at things like a development programs for front office and ways in which we can get more diverse representation in our coaching and official ranks. Yes, that is important. If we are going to inspire the next generation of kids to play hockey and to find the next top hockey player, we are going to have to make sure that our sport shows itself at every level to represent that market in which we’re trying to attract.
Arash: You mentioned Evander Kane a few moments ago. Evander’s followed the path that so many hockey players have. The minor hockey ranks growing up, played in major junior. Drafted, has bounced from Atlanta to Winnipeg. Now, of course, he’s continued to play in San Jose, and then had a stint in Buffalo as well. Evander was on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in late May. And he wasn’t talking about race, Kim, when he was making this point, but more, he was speaking about what hockey culture is.
Clip- Evander: Put your head down, go to work and shut your mouth. It’s continuously pounded into you to conform to what everybody else is doing. And when you have certain players that don’t conform to what these old school mindsets that are at the top are telling you to do, then you’re viewed as a bad apple or a problem or a bad guy. And that’s a major problem.
Arash: When you hear that from Evander, what’s your reaction and what do you believe can be done to change some of those old school mindsets and attitudes that may exist in the game, not necessarily at the pro level, but all the way up the ranks all the way from the time you’re a kid.
Kim: Yeah. I think when I hear that comment, two things come to mind. The first is that, that that is Evander’s real and lived experience. And it may well be the experience of many, many who play hockey and it’s important that we hear it and understand it and take heed. I think the second thing is that when we hear anything about culture, the culture of any environment, it requires us to interrogate every level of that culture to understand where our blind spots are and how we can improve on those blind spots. And I think as the North Star of the sport, the NHL, is taking a real leadership role in working with the governing bodies at all levels in the sport to help bring about the kind of culture that Evander spoke about.
Arash: What have you learned, Kim? You’ve been in this role now a little more than two years. What have you– shoot, coming up on three. What have you learned about that hockey culture and what have you learned about where this game can go and the opportunities of what it can be, if there continues to be progress in this regard?
Kim: Well, I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is that we have more people that are willing to learn and change than not. And that’s both instructive and inspiring. Because as I stated earlier, this is a journey, not a sprint. And it’s gonna take everyone rowing in the same direction. I’ve learned that in the hockey culture, there is a sense of humility, and the culture of keeping your head down and it being part of the team. But I’ve also come to see and learn that our new generation, the next generation of hockey players, because of their broader exposure, primarily through social media, they are willing to push the boundaries in ways that maybe players in the past weren’t. And they want to see the intersection of sport and society, and sport and justice, sport and fashion and music, and the ways in which they want to express that are going to be far more inclusive than we’ve probably seen in the past. And that’s encouraging. Because I think it’s going to be the next generation in our sport of hockey that’s going to lead the way and that’s what we ought to be preparing for. We ought to be preparing our hockey culture, our hockey ecosystem for this next generation. And I don’t think that they are going to necessarily stand for maybe some of the ways in which the sport of hockey is socialized from the youth level all the way up, the way that’s been in the past. I don’t think that’s going to be the way forward for our sport.
Arash: With Kim Davis, the NHL’s Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. Kim, you talk about growth. And I just heard what you said about the next generation. And I think about hockey today. And it startled me in such a positive way to read John Tortorella’s comments about the Anthem. Four years ago, when Colin Kaepernick first took the knee, it was right around the time the World. Cup of Hockey was happening in Toronto. And Tortorella said, if any of our players sit on the bench during the anthem, that is where they are going to be for the rest of the game. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Tortorella said he has spoken with so many people about this, and he says, he now understands why. That it’s not about– the protest was not done to wrap themselves in the flag, nor was it about anything to do with the military. When John Tortorella, who is the father of somebody in combat says that, to me, that signifies somebody is listening. Somebody is willing to understand. What does something like that signify to you when you hear comments like that from an active NHL head coach?
Kim: It signifies exactly what you’ve just outlined. That we have willing bodies who are willing to suspend judgment, to be listeners, but not just listeners. Learners. Because you can be a listener and not a learner. And if you’re listening and not learning, then you’re not taking that in and understanding how that might have to adjust your attitudes, the ways in which you have been brought up in the world, the imageries that you had. And I think that listening and learning is something that, again, I’m encouraged as I’m spending a lot of time speaking with owners and presidents and general managers, in conversations about our sport, and their own willingness to learn and listen, and to be vulnerable, which I think is new. It’s a new muscle in the sport of hockey. I think it’s a new muscle, frankly, in sports generally, but for sure in hockey. And again, these are the things that keep me encouraged that we have an opportunity to do some things differently going forward than maybe we’ve done in the past.
Arash: Without going too far down that rabbit hole, have there been a couple of prevailing thoughts, comments, questions from those owners, presidents, and GMs that have commonalities across the board?
Kim: Yeah, I think the commonality of their, of their inquiries centre around what can I personally do to make a change? This seems big, and what can I personally do? How can I learn more about the history of our country, and being an antiracist. We talked a lot about the differences between being a racist versus institutional racism and systemic racism that exists in our society. And anti-racist work, which has to do with how you think about the images that you’ve grown up with and change that paradigm as it relates to people that you interact with today. And that’s hard work. But I have been encouraged by that kind of inquiry, and not wanting to rush to the answer. I think that that is a really, really important aspect of this journey that we’re on, is that typically when we have a problem to solve, people in positions of power, want to solve the problem immediately. Some of this we have to sit in and understand it before we come up with solutions. And for business people, that’s typically very hard, but I’m encouraged by their willingness to want to go through that process.
Arash: A process indeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it seems– it sure seems, Kim, we’re having more conversations and better conversations in the last month than we have in quite some time.
Kim: Better conversations for sure.
Arash: Kim, we appreciate the time. Thank you for the insight. Thank you for the information. And thank you for joining us on A Turning Point.
Kim: Thank you.
Arash: As the sports world continues to prepare for a return to play, a critical eye must be kept on the pursuit of racial justice. It is not going to happen with Donald Trump. Again last week and a television interview the president continued to say it’s about the flag. So the want for progress, now more than ever, has to come from owners and leagues, an establishment, don’t forget that in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death promised would be committed to it. So in the months and years to come, when athletes hold all of them accountable to it, let’s make sure why they do that doesn’t get twisted either. We thank Dr. John Carlos and Howard Bryant for the terrific conversation and for NHL Executive Vice President Kim Davis for speaking so frankly on the matter. And we’re appreciative to you for tuning into A Turning Point. For producers Riche Massoud and Elizabeth Hart, and editors, Brian Johnson and Jesse Rubinoff.
I’m Arash Madani. Good night from Toronto.
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