Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba doesn’t like to get into specifics when recalling the racism he experienced as a youth hockey player in western Canada. But he remembers his mother’s tears.
“There are so many times as a little kid that I saw my own family, my mom and myself leave the rink in tears, and now you’re sitting in the car talking about what happened and seeing all the pain it caused,” Dumba recalled on Tuesday in a Zoom call with media members. “Having the conversation that you have to have tougher skin, you have to be able to take the high road on this, and they’re only saying that because you’re playing so well or this and that. That’s a conversation white parents don’t have to have with their kids, nor should parents of color.”
Dumba, whose mother is Filipino, and a diverse group of pro athletes from the U.S. and Canada announced the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. In a letter signed by Dumba and six other current and former players, they announced their mission to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
The movement comes not only in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests around the world, but amid growing awareness of racism in pro and college sports. In late November of 2019, Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters resigned after two of his former players, Akim Aliu and Michal Jordan, accused Peters of using racial profanities and attacking players in the locker room.
Jordan is white, and is currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, which is where Peters ended up coaching as well. Aliu, who is black, was born in Nigeria and raised in Ukraine before playing juniors and pro hockey in Canada. Playing most recently in the Czech Republic, last month Aliu penned an article for The Players' Tribune detailing some of the racist behavior he has endured during his hockey career.
Aliu and San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane are the co-chairs of the alliance, which also includes Dumba, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley, Buffalo Sabres forward Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers forward Chris Stewart and retired forward Joel Ward. Both Stewart and Ward formerly played for the Wild.
Among the goals of the alliance are promoting diversity at all levels of hockey via community outreach and engagement, and making hockey more accessible and affordable.
Dumba, who was drafted by the Wild seventh overall in 2012 and has been with the team since then, has been at his home in Calgary since the NHL season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic began in March. He said it has been hard to watch the scenes of violence and unrest in his adopted home of Minneapolis, and noted that the mission of the alliance is to make stories of racial comments on the ice and in the locker room in a game that is still predominantly white a thing of the past.
“I can only see our game growing to new heights and new levels, and hopefully by that time kids will only hear the stories of what some of us had to go through to get where we are,” Dumba said. “They can look back and see us and all the people who get involved with what we’re trying to do, see us as pioneers for a sport and people who got rid of something that was so negative for our game.”
“Hopefully those youth can grow up in a hockey environment that does not have to deal with the negativity that comes with racism and the slurs and how we treat each other.”