An NHL team announced its 'Buy Black' initiative this season as critics say the league is still behind on racial justice.

·5 min read
Black helmet of a New Jersey Devils player's home jersey is shown up close, upside down on the ice.
New Jersey Devils left wing Miles Wood (44) helmet lays on the ice during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 30, 2019 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
  • THe NHL's New Jersey Devils' Buy Black Program will market Black businesses throughout the season.

  • Critics say the contrast between the league's programs and treatment of POC players is inconsistent.

  • A group working with the league to address racism parted ways calling its effort "performative."

In the wake of protests against the murder of George Floyd in 2020, professional sports leagues including the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball launched programs to help support Black and minority owned businesses.

Now the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League are aimed at taking their philanthropy to a whole new level.

Beginning October 30 th, Devils players will wear "NJ Buy Black" stickers on the back of their helmets on road games through December 3rd.

And from December 11th through the rest of the season, players will sport another decal featuring the logo of a selected local Black-owned business.

The Devils' Buy Black Program was created last year to support and amplify Black entrepreneurs.

But while this program helps aid Black businesses, the backdrop of players speaking out about racism and sexual assault in the NHL over the last year is present.

Critics say that contrast between the league's new program supporting racial justice and its treatment of people of color has been a contradiction.

The NHL's initiatives to fight racism

The NHL is 93% white, making it the least racially diverse among the four major sports leagues in the US. And according to an analysis collected by The New York Times, the NHL has only had 100 Black players in its more than century-long history.

That number is even less for Hispanic and Asian players.

By comparison, players of color make up more than 70% of athletes in the National Football League and NBA. Nearly 20% of MLB players are of color, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

The NHL says it's taking steps to address its diversity problem. The league has it's annual diversity initiative campaign with it's Players Association providing mandatory inclusion and diversity training for all NHL Players.

The league this summer announced a $5 million investment over 18 months toward expanding access to the game of hockey to underserved communities and hiring a more diverse staff throughout the league.

"We are taking the next step to bring real, positive, systemic change to the game," Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time. "We know the lasting value this work will have for our Clubs, the Players, fans, employees, business partners and everyone else who makes up the hockey community."

The Black-business emblem that will be sported on players helmets starting in December is part of an expansion effort of the Devils' Buy Black Program which was designed to help Black entrepreneurs.

In January the program was launched under the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment's action plan as a $20 million commitment to combat systemic racism.

The first wave of winners received a $1,000 grant and were promoted by the Devils inside the Prudential Center, on MSG broadcasts and on the team's social media channels.

Lloyd Wilson the owner of one winning business, Newark Paper Company, is extremely grateful for the opportunity by the Devils. He has been able to expand its network attending events hosted by the organization with team sponsors.

"Having the Devils is like having a big brother that won't allow any other people to push us around," Wilson told Insider.

He added that the grant and partnership will boost the company's "longevity within this industry as a cooperative" and will help achieve their goal "to make more cooperatives under this umbrella and employ more Black people."

But, while the NHL has publically taken steps to address issues of systemic racism with funding for Black businesses and player racism many columnists covering the league and athletes are cynical about the substance of the programs the league has rolled out.

Players of color started the Hockey Diversity Alliance to deal with racism in the NHL

Hockey players slap hands in celebration after a goal.
Akim Aliu #29, celebrates the goal of Dennis Wideman #26, along with Calgary Flames teammate Max Reinhart #59 during their game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place in April 2013 in Alberta, Canada.Derek Leung/Getty Images

Seven NHL players of color started the Hockey Diversity Alliance last summer after former NHL player Aliu,wrote an op-ed in The Players Tribune about the racist abuse and hazing he experienced throughout his career by fellow players and coaches.

The NHL claimed in October it investigated the accusations and were supposed to reach out to Aliu but his attorney's said that as of November 1st, that has not happened.

"The NHL's title for their annual diversity campaign. Hockey is For Everyone. Makes me crack up. Because, right now, hockey is not for everyone," Aliu wrote last year.

The advocacy group says it's aim is "to eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey," and is committed to "inspire a new and diverse generation of hockey players and fans."

One of the groups founders, Matt Dumba, the Minnesota Wild Defenseman also told NBC about his experience being the only person of color playing hockey growing up in Calgary, Canada.

"Little kids threw the bag at you when it came to racial slurs," Dumba said.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance initially was working with the NHL to address issues of racism but ultimately decided it wasn't a fit because they said the league was engaging in "performative public relationships efforts."

Despite the chatter around the NHL's lack of seriousness on issues of racism, the NHL continues to be optimistic about its efforts. With the Devils' Buy Black Program the New Jersey Devils president Jake Reynolds said in a statement last month that the initiative "is about amplifying the power of sports and live entertainment to drive meaningful change in our community."

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