On September 6th, the NHL rolled out an interesting, doctrine-like, set of standards entitled hockey’s “Declaration of Principles”. Seventeen of hockey’s most globally respected organizations joined forces to create the initiative, and for those who missed the star-studded unveiling of it on the TODAY show, the document reads as follows:
1. 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.
2. Hockey’s greatest value is the role it plays in the development of character and life skills.
3. 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.
4. Physical activity is important for a healthy body, mind and spirit.
5. There are significant benefits of youth participation in multiple sports.
6. Hockey programs should be age-appropriate for all players, accounting for each individual’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.
7. There is great value in all forms of hockey, both on and off the ice.
8. 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.
Each one of these 8 Commandments, er, I mean, principles, is interesting in its own right. Setting aside the fact that numbers one through seven set a bare minimum standard for what those involved should get out of the sport, it is number eight that is especially interesting.
Although the NHL is making a step in the direction of diversity, there’s no hiding that hockey isn’t always the most inclusive place. The National Hockey League is comprised of 93% of players who consider themselves white, with only the remaining 7% identifying as other ethnicities, and while a number of NHL players do not disclose their religious beliefs publicly, the majority of the ones who do, are Christian and Catholic.
This was glaringly obvious when the initiative, that boasted promises of cultural and religious diversity, used God as its primary sponsor.
In the same breath that NHL legend and VP of hockey development Pat Lafontaine introduced the standard that hockey should be a safe place for anyone, regardless of religion, he went on to read an endorsement letter for the initiative from Pope Francis himself. As a sport that is attempting to create a new era of inclusion and diversity, aligning itself so closely with one religion, especially one that has controversial and polarizing opinions on feminism and sexual orientation, seems to be a one step forward, one step backward situation. While the release of the Declaration of Principles was an admiral move on hockey’s part, it’s evident that there are still massive strides to be made if hockey wants to become the inclusive community it intends to be.
In Matthew 14, Jesus walks on water. Are we sure it wasn’t frozen, and are we sure there wasn’t a stick in his hand? Because it seems as though hockey and God are in cahoots.