NHL, Panthers, Penguins spread message of diversity, inclusion in hockey

NHL, Panthers, Penguins spread message of diversity, inclusion in hockey

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Emmanuel Umoffia said he was surprised at the number of black people working in the NHL and its clubs in key positions.

“I didn’t know,” said Umoffia, a 7-foot-3 center for Florida Memorial University men’s basketball. “Just being here today kind of opened my eyes to hockey, and I want to be associated with it.”

Umoffia was among Florida Memorial students who attended a “Saluting Trailblazers” breakfast Wednesday that kicked off Black History Month at the Private Historically Black College.

Attendees learned about NHL and hockey opportunities and efforts to make the sport more diverse and inclusive through a panel of Black executives and employees from the League, Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sharing their hockey journeys with attendees, Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs; Jeff Scott, NHL Vice President, Community Development and Growth; Florida Panthers assistant general manager Brett Peterson; Brian Blake, NHL Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion; Jennifer Ekeleme, NHL Vice President, Multicultural Engagement + Integration; Thomas Eugene, Panthers Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Multicultural Affairs; Tracey McCants Lewis, Pittsburgh Penguins Director of Human Resources and General Counsel, and Delvina Morrow, Penguins Senior Manager, Strategic Community Initiatives and Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.

“We’re here because representation matters,” said Davis, who is one of the highest-ranked black women in professional sports. “I want you to know that if you see it, you can be it. Think hockey.”

Peterson, who became the NHL’s first black assistant general manager in November 2020, agreed.

“I think this is another giant leap for the Florida Panthers in terms of researching and understanding who surrounds us and our neighbors and creating more avenues and opportunities,” said Peterson. “I met fantastic young people and I was able to help them. One of the things I hope these young people take away from the panel is to follow their passion. I think one thing about sports in general, particularly the NHL, is we are passionate people and passionate about games.”

Panelists debunked the myth that hockey is and always has been an all-white sport. They noted that the Colored Hockey League, an all-black league based in the Canadian Maritimes, was formed in 1895, before the NHL, which was founded in Montreal in 1917.

They implored students to be ready when the opportunity arises, to make connections and not be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to careers.

Several of the panelists said working in the NHL wasn’t initially on their job radar, but now they can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I’m here for a reason,” McCants Lewis said of his work with the Penguins. “I hope to serve as a role model to show people that you don’t have to play hockey to work in hockey. In my role as head of human resources, we try to create an opportunity that will welcome everyone in a space It’s a space to belong…and to show anyone that there are opportunities for you…where you think you might not be able to go, but you can.”

The conversation resonated with Tre’Nika Francis, a sophomore in music at Florida Memorial.

“I didn’t know anything about hockey, but I watched it on TV, and it looked interesting,” Francis said. only whites can work. It’s nice to see that they have the opportunity to succeed.”

Florida Memorial President Jaffus Hardrick said the panel delivered a timely message that his students needed to hear.

“We have to take every opportunity because we never know where our path is really going to take us,” Hardrick said. “And just as we heard from each of the panelists, none of them ever intended to be in the NHL. But look at them now; their different journeys have led them to this great organization.”

At the end of the event, North Miami Beach Commissioner Daniela Jean presented Davis and Peterson with proclamations honoring the NHL and the Panthers for their contributions to the sport.

“We, the Mayor and City Commission of North Miami Beach, Florida, hereby honor and recognize the National Hockey League (NHL) on February 1, 2023, for providing competitive, exciting and action-packed sports entertainment. action to fans and spectators around the world for more than 100 years,” read the NHL’s proclamation.

Photos: Nicholas Teeto, Florida Panthers, Memorial University of Florida

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