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Editor’s Note: The Color of Hockey is pleased to feature this post written by Erica L. Ayala, a multi-talented New York-based sportswriter, blogger, podcaster, and general media force of nature.  She has her own site, ericalayala.com, co-hosts “The Founding Four,” a podcast that focuses on the National Women’s Hockey League, and has written for Excelle Sports, SBNation’s “The Ice Garden,” FanRag Sports, and The Victory Press.

Earlier this month, the National Hockey League introduced Kimberly Davis as the Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs.  

Kim Davis, the NHL’s VP for Social Impact, Growth Initiatives& Legislative Affairs.

Davis brings an extensive amount of experience from the corporate sector to her new role. Previously, she worked on corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts at firms such as the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and, most recently, Teneo, a CEO advisory firm.

She joins Michele Roberts (Executive Director, NBA Players Association), Lisa Borders (President, WNBA), Katrina Adams (President, United States Tennis Association) – to name a few – as women of color in executive roles in professional sports.

In 2012, Davis was profiled with First Lady Michelle Obama in Essence magazine’s 28 Most Influential Black Women in America. She has been named to The Business Journal’s 100 Most Influential Women and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

As an executive,  Davis is no doubt a first star. How will that translate to professional hockey? The Color of Hockey caught up with the Spelman College alumna on her second day on the job to discuss the league’s diversity and inclusion efforts such as Hockey is for Everyone  and the Declaration of Principles, as well as the state of professional  women’s hockey.

Washington Capitals All Star forward Alex Ovechkin, kneeling, with players from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, a member of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone program (Photo/Patrick McDermott).

“I have a lot to learn about about the sport and the game,” Davis said. “I hope that we’ll have a chance to follow up in the coming months and hopefully you’ll see us making some progress in many of the areas that you outlined.”

As with many insider terms, CSR is often perceived solely in the light of companies donating money and other resources to a cause or community. However, Davis is eager to blend her corporate experience with the goals of the NHL to expand CSR to something more involved.

“When people typically think about corporate social responsibility they often digress to the notion that CSR is philanthropy,” Davis said in a phone interview last Tuesday.

“While a part of CSR is clearly philanthropy the concept of CSR really refers to business and societal practices that operate together to benefit a company or an organization like the NHL stakeholders,” she added.

Addressing the societal practices and culture surrounding hockey includes stakeholders such as coaches, owners, players, fans and the greater community.

Even one of those groups is likely to have varied opinions, let alone all of them. However, Davis feels that hockey and the culture it has cultivated is uniquely designed with certain fundamentals already embedded.

“I think that hockey is uniquely in a position because of the attributes of the games – the humility of the players, the leadership that comes from the way the sport is organized and played. I’m hoping to continue to contribute in bridging that societal piece and that business piece in a way that allows the game to grow and expand its fan base.”

However, there are times when the hockey community has fallen short of inclusion for some. From homophobic language to microaggressions in the broadcast booth, the NHL has endured a fair share of criticism in the last calendar year alone. Add to that limited exposure and professional opportunities for the women’s game and the job of corporate social responsibility and community engagement seems daunting.

Yet, embracing the diversity of hockey is something the league seems eager to do more effectively.  In addition to its Hockey is For Everyone initiative, the league has hosted activities that focus awareness on such areas as LGBTQ, ethnicity and gender equality, socio-economic status and people with disabilities.

One such event was the 2017 Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend.  It was there that Davis got her first real exposure to the game. She was working with the league as a consultant for diversity and inclusion at the time.

The skills weekend event is named for O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player. He now serves as the NHL’s director for youth development.

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“I was bowled over with excitement and fascination by the commitment that so many of these coaches and others sponsors and mentors had for the game,” Davis said. “I also have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of kids of color who were exposed to the sport and knowledgeable and fantastic at the sport.”

In addition to the Hockey is For Everyone, the NHL participated in the development of the Declaration of Principles. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other leaders in hockey unveiled the eight principles in September that state:

  • Hockey should be an enjoyable family experience; all stakeholders— organizations, players, parents, siblings, coaches, referees, volunteers and rink operators — play a role in this effort.
  • All hockey organizations – regardless of size or level of competition – bring value to players and families in their ability to deliver a positive family experience.
  • Hockey programs should be age-appropriate for all players, accounting for each individual’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.
  • All hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Simply put, hockey is for everyone.

Davis is now part of a team that seeks to bring these principles to life.

Part of the conversation over the past several years has been where women in hockey fits into such initiatives.

Both the professional Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League have enjoyed partnerships of some kind with individual NHL markets, including the opportunity for the women to play on NHL ice.

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The Bell Centre hosted its first CWHL regular season game last December. Les Canadiennes de Montreal hosted the Calgary Inferno, a rematch of the 2016 Clarkson Cup Finals. This season, the New Jersey Devils announced a three-year partnership with the NWHL’s  Metropolitan Riveters.

These partnerships are important, but have not trickled down to the salaries of female players quite yet. In October, The Ice Garden released salary details for both women’s hockey leagues. Salaries are said to range from $2,000-$10,000 in the CWHL and $5,000-$7,000 in the NWHL.

When asked about the women’s game, Davis said she was unaware of any specific plans. But she noted that “There is a great deal of support and enthusiasm (within the league) about finding new ways to engage women and women in the sport of hockey…” 

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In her first 30 days, Davis is focused on listening and learning from her team in hopes of starting off 2018 on the right foot.

With Davis’ appointment, the NHL has placed a diversity and inclusion expert at the helm. Now, we eagerly await the impact of her expertise on making manifest the words, hockey is for everyone.

Follow Erica L. Ayala on Twitter at @elindsay08 and at ericalayala.com.

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