P.K. Subban is about to begin his 12th full year playing in the National Hockey League. He has been awarded the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. He was an alternate captain of the Montreal Canadiens and currently serves in the same capacity with the New Jersey Devils.
“Hockey has given a lot to me,” Subban said Monday. “The fact that it has provided a platform for me to speak on a lot of issues is what I am most grateful for. I have my own opinions on how I would like to see hockey change. What I am happy about is that there is a lot of conversation about diversity and inclusivity.
“We need the sport to be more culturally aware and accepting of those who don’t traditionally look the part. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting closer every day.”
On Tuesday, Subban will be introduced as an ambassador for Hockey For All, a new initiative established to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the game. The program, unveiled on the opening day of the season, has received $2-million from Scotiabank to promote hockey from the grassroots level across Canada for the next 12 months and will be supported by the NHL, the Hockey Diversity Alliance, Hockey Canada and numerous other partners.
“The program started from a deep understanding that racism is a real problem everywhere,” Laura Curtis Ferrera, Scotiabank’s chief marketing officer, said. “We felt we were uniquely positioned to be a force for good. The Hockey For All platform is one way to shine a light on what is happening in [the sport] and to make it more inclusive.”
A poll conducted by Angus Reid in May found nine of 10 Canadians believe hockey provides a sense of identity and community. However, two-thirds of those who participated and coached or played said the game has a problem with inclusion and bullying, and 88 per cent said organized hockey is too expensive.
As a result of that, Hockey For All will concentrate on two distinct areas: cultural and financial.
“Scotiabank believes there is a place for all Canadians in hockey; however, we also believe the game has a distinct opportunity to more closely reflect the rich and diverse culture of Canada and to be more open,” Ms. Curtis Ferrera said.
Financially, the program will provide monetary assistance to players, teams, leagues and organizations in underrepresented communities.
“The idea of being able to provide resources is important, but what is most important is that the resources intentionally be made available to where they are going to go to the best use,” said Kim Davis, the NHL senior executive vice-president of social impact, growth initiatives & legislative affairs. “We want to see a sport and a society where a kid has the choice to choose whatever they want to do.”
Subban, who is Black, said he did not experience much racism as he learned to play hockey at the youth level in Toronto. It happened more often when his team would travel elsewhere within Canada or to the United States.
“Whether it is in hockey or not, everybody has had those times where they were made to feel uncomfortable,” Subban said. “We see it a lot in minor hockey. Nowadays, only an idiot in the pros would say something and think they could get away with it.
“One thing I want to make clear is that I don’t think people are educated about what racism is. It is more than just words. It is actions, including being made to feel that you know your place. Several times in my career I felt that I was held back because of race.
“Racists come in all shapes and sizes. They are smart people like me and you who were raised differently.”
Education is part of the Hockey For All platform, and Subban is glad to be involved.
“Scotiabank has invested a lot in hockey and understands the movement,” Subban said. “If you ask some people they would say that $2-million is not all that much. What is more important than that is the message that is being sent and what you stand for.
“This is just the start. Everybody is still learning how to be part of the solution. We can choose to be divisive, but I always want to be part of the answer.”