Akim Aliu and Hockey Diversity Alliance Continue Efforts to End Racism in Hockey
In the midst of a global pandemic, Akim Aliu has been places he never dreamed of.
The former NHL player has gone from sharing his experiences as a black hockey player on social media to covering magazines, skating on a reality show and working with business leaders in his quest to help end racism in the game he loves.
“I tweeted and now I’m dealing with CEOs and Marketing Directors a few months later and just in circles I never thought I would be in. And I think it’s for the right reasons,” Aliu said. “It’s nice to be able to get some recognition, but that’s really not what I’m in there for. I’m here to make impactful changes.
Aliu raised serious questions about racism in hockey in 2019 when he alleged in a tweet that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters addressed racial slurs at him while they were both in minors a decade earlier. Peters resigned shortly after the allegations were made.
Aliu, 32, has been pushing for change in the sport ever since. He teamed up with eight other NHL players – including Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche – last June to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
The group’s goal is to “eradicate racism and hockey intolerance” and get more blacks, aboriginals and people of color to play hockey.
As the group celebrates its first anniversary, Aliu believes it has made a difference.
“For a group of players to come together in a predominantly white sport and take a stand and say change is needed, that was something we should all be proud of,” said Aliu, a former Flames forward. . “I think it will be remembered for a long time.”
Aliu appeared on the cover of Maclean’s in February, named by the magazine as one of 50 Canadians Making Transformative Change. He also appeared in Sports Illustrated in January and skated fourth on CBC’s “Battle of the Blades”.
Edmonton defenseman Ethan Bear received an avalanche of racist comments online last month after the Oilers were ousted from the playoffs.
Similar incidents occur “constantly” in hockey, Aliu said.
“It just goes to show that there is obviously a huge problem in our game when it comes to the way people look at people of color in and around the game,” he said. “But also, internally in the game, players of color are not treated the same as Caucasian players. So we will try to educate and hopefully see the change bit by bit. “
Many players involved in the HDA have publicly shared their own stories about racism in hockey, Aliu said. He hopes their stories will help make the sport safer for the next generation of players.
“We just feel like there are nine players who made it to the top of the mountain on their way to the National Hockey League and all of us facing these incidents, there is no one better to talk about these issues. and to help promote play and speak to kids who are like us, ”he said.
“I think kids relate to what they see and obviously when you see someone who looks like you you tend to trust them and then you tend to feel like you can go. as far as that person. “
The HDA had originally planned to work with the NHL in its efforts for change, but split from the league in October.
Aliu said the group wanted the NHL to implement tangible hiring goals for people of color and wanted resources dedicated to education and local programs. But Aliu said they were “going around in circles and going nowhere.”
“I think first and foremost, when you want to solve a problem, you have to call it as it is,” he said. “Yes, there is a racial issue in our game and we need to devote resources to growing the game in many different avenues. And they didn’t want to do that.
The NHL announced a number of anti-racism initiatives in early September, including mandatory inclusion and diversity training for players, and an “Inclusion Learning Experience” for employees. .
The league and the Players’ Association have also said they will work with the HDA to establish a Toronto area grassroots hockey development program for the BIPOC communities.
The HDA is still working on community hockey programs. This week, Kraft Heinz pledged $ 1 million over the next four years to the group.
The money will be used to provide ball hockey equipment to under-represented communities and to encourage children who were not represented in the game to get involved.
“People call it Canada’s game, but I would say most people of color don’t identify with hockey,” said Aliu.
The group hopes to launch the program in November and is also working on an educational program, he said.
They will also continue to speak out against racism in hockey and “call it what it is”.
“We have big dreams and big aspirations and we want to do things that have never been done before, sometimes, I guess, in a controversial way,” Aliu said. “But I think these issues shouldn’t be controversial. I think everyone should know that there are inequalities in this world, especially when it comes to race in and around hockey.
“So we’re ready to go and show the world what we have.”