Amid a global pandemic, Akim Aliu was places he never dreamed of.
The former NHLer has gone from sharing his experiences as a black hockey player on social media to gracing magazine covers, skating on a reality TV show and working with corporate executives in his quest to help end racism in the game where he likes.
I tweeted and now a few months later I’m dealing with CEOs and CMOs and only in circles I never thought I’d be in. And I think it’s for all the right reasons,” Aliu said. “To get some recognition is nice, but that’s really not what I’m doing it for. I am in it to make impactful change.
Aliu raised serious questions about racism in hockey in 2019 when he claimed in a tweet that then-Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters had made racist remarks to him when they were both 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 NHLers last June, including Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds, Minnesota Wild defender Matt Dumba and Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
The group’s goal is to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey” and get more black, indigenous and colored people into the game.
As the group reaches its one-year anniversary, Aliu thinks it’s made a difference.
For a group of players to come together in a sport that is predominantly white and take a stance and say change is needed 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 the 50 Canadians making transformative change. He also appeared in Sports Illustrated in January, skating to fourth place on CBC’s “Battle of the Blades.”
Last month, Edmonton defenseman Ethan Bear received a barrage of racist comments online after the Oilers were ousted from the playoffs.
Similar incidents happen “constantly” in hockey, Aliu said.
That just goes to show that there’s clearly a huge problem in our game when it comes to how people view people of color in and around the game,” he said. “But also internally in the game, players of color aren’t treated in the same way. way like white players. So went to try and educate and hopefully see little by little change.
Many of the players involved in the HDA have publicly shared their own stories about experiencing racism in hockey, Aliu said. He hopes their stories will make the sport safer for the next generation of players.
We feel like just nine players who have made it to the top of the mountain by making it to the National Hockey League and we are all dealing with these incidents, there is no one better to speak to about these issues and to help promote the game and children who are like us,” he said.
“I think kids identify with what they see and of course, when you see someone who looks like you, you tend to trust them and then you tend to have the perception that you can go just as far as that person.
The HDA originally planned to work with the NHL in its pursuit of change, but split from the league in October.
Aliu said the group wanted the NHL to implement tangible recruitment goals for people of color, and they wanted to see resources focused on education and basic programming. But Aliu said they were “circling in circles and not really getting anywhere”.
I think, first of all, if you want to tackle a problem, you have to call it what it is,” he said. “Yes, there is a racial problem in our game and we have to put resources in to make the game in many countries to grow. different roads. And they didn’t want 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 Players’ Association also said they would work with the HDA to establish a grassroots hockey development program in the Toronto area for BIPOC communities.
The HDA is still working on community hockey programs. This week, Kraft Heinz pledged $1 million to the group over the next four years.
The money will go towards providing underrepresented communities with ball hockey equipment and encouraging children who have not yet represented themselves in the game to participate.
People call it Canada’s game, but I’d say most people of color don’t identify with the game of hockey,” Aliu said.
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 ambitions and we want to do things that have never been done before, sometimes, I think, in a controversial way,” Aliu said. “But I think these issues should not be controversial. I think everyone should know that there are inequalities in this world, especially regarding racing in and around the game of hockey.
“So were ready to go and show the world what we’ve got.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 11, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press