Women of the NWHL make stand against racism

It may not raise a lot of eyebrows, but the players of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) are taking a stand against racism. The league, in a unanimous show of solidarity, announced that players will be wearing a huge “End Racism” logo on their jerseys during their shortened season this year.

The NWHL season started on January 23 and will conclude on February 5.

“It’s amazing to see the league take a stand for something that sadly is still a significant problem in our society,” said Toronto Six forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis. “Having the End Racism patch on every team’s jersey conveys a clear message that the league is United in the stance against ending racism.”

Boston Pride defender Jenna Rheault and Minnesota Whitecaps defender Amanda Boulier
Boston Pride at Minnesota Whitecaps on Jan 25, 2020. (Collin Nawrocki)

The NWHL, which is formed of six teams and roughly 120 players, came together in 2015. The majority of the league’s players are white. And so, in the wake of all of the racial and social unrest that has taken place in the United States and around the world over the course of the past year, the NWHL is following the lead set by other sports leagues such as the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB (Major League Baseball), NHL (National Hockey League), and MLS (Major League Soccer) in denouncing the unjust treatment of others because of their race.

“The NWHLPA stands firmly against racism of all kinds, and is proud of the legacy our BIPOC players and alumni have created in Women’s Hockey,” said Anya Packer, executive director of the NWHLPA. “The world today is fractured, but in the NWHLPA we will continue to educate our athletes, leverage our platforms, and drive meaningful action to make hockey a more diverse and inclusive space. We want our stance to be clear, so we are proud to wear End Racism patches.”

While this is a good step for the league, as well as the sport in general to be more inclusive, drumming up support to follow and watch hockey, could be a challenge. That would be particularly true here in the United States.

All the teams (Buffalo Beauts, Toronto Six, Minnesota Whitecaps, Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, and Metropolitan Riveters) that comprise the NWHL are all located in extreme cold and icy territories where most of the population tend to be white.

So the reception of most Americans to the sport of hockey is lukewarm at best, according to numbers provided by Statista. When polled, 73 percent of African Americans are not a fan of the NHL at all. And only five percent say they are avid fans.

The sport fared a little better with the Latino population. According to Statista, 61 percent of Hispanics surveyed say they are not a fan of the sport at all while 31 percent are casual fans. Interestingly enough, 62 percent of whites polled here in the United States don’t care for the sport either.

So the buy-in for the NWHL to the general population on what it is attempting to do might prove difficult. Nonetheless, players like Saroya Tinker of the Metropolitan Riveters are happy to see the league taking a stand against the stain of racism. Tinker was the No. 1 overall pick selected by the Riveters during the 2020 NWHL Draft.

“As a current Riveters rookie and NWHL player of color, I feel supported by both my teammates and league,” Tinker said. “Our End Racism campaign has brought forth the opportunity for uncomfortable, but important conversations to be had amongst teammates, coaches, and the NWHL staff.

“With this, I am confident that each and every individual understands the history and importance of bringing these systemically ingrained issues to the forefront as we continue to use our platforms for good as professional athletes,” Tinker added. “As a Black player in the league, I know my voice is being heard we strive to make the hockey community an inclusive place for all no matter what race, gender, or ethnicity.”

Whitney Dove, a rookie for the Buffalo Beauts and one of the few players of color currently playing in the NWHL, had an impassioned plea about the subject.

“Being a player of color in the NWHL I will be a part of the change that we strive to see in raising awareness about racism and inclusion in our sport,” Dove said. “I’m proud to be among the other athletes in this league that are passionate about this issue, and I stand behind our message in making hockey a more comfortable and enjoyable environment for everyone.”

Dove’s teammate, Brooke Stacey, who was selected to the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game during her rookie season, said the league is on a united front to stamp out racism.

“Whether anyone decides to stand or kneel, the Buffalo Beauts and the NWHL are united in our goal to contribute in the mission to end racism,” said Stacey. “Racism is very prevalent in the U.S. and Canada, and it must end. All people deserve to be treated equally with respect and dignity.”

This is not the first time that the league has gotten involved in the work of inclusivity. In December, the Beauts, Whale, Riveters, and Whitecaps got together to raise money for the Black Girl Hockey Club. But the move by the NWHL to jump out in front of the whole racism issue may stem from the backlash that the NHL received quite a bit of flack in their delayed response to the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man whose death by a former white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer on May 25, 2020.

Floyd’s death, which was caught on videotape, sparked worldwide condemnation and gave way to racial justice protests on an international scale, not just in the city where the Whitecaps call home.

“Over the past year especially, the work and determination of our BIPOC teammates, some leaders in the women’s hockey media, and others to make our sport more inclusive has been on tremendous display, and I applaud and thank them,” Whitecaps forward Allie Thunstrom said. “We realize and accept that the work here is not done and we want to do everything we can to educate ourselves and others of the implicit biases that exist all around us. We will always have differences – within every group there are differences – and that is what makes people unique. But what all of us in the NWHL share is our deep love for the game. We must collectively focus on ensuring that all are welcome in our game.”

Forward Kaycie Anderson, a third-year player with the Connecticut Whale, said the league is trying to send an emphatic statement against intolerance.

“I am proud to wear the End Racism patch on my jersey,” Anderson said. “Furthermore, as a diverse player, I am proud to be a member of a league that is communicating loudly that we will not tolerate acts of hatred or racism and seek only to contribute to and be the change our world needs,” Anderson said. “This season I wear this patch for my indigenous grandmother, my African, Cuban grandfather, and every individual who has experienced racism in their life. I stand with you and with my family and I am here to be a part of the change.”

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