As the enforcer and one of the Sharks’ leaders, Evander Kane is truly a lovable player. But his advocacy for racial justice and unwillingness to conform to the status quo make him a league-wide standout.
His work with fellow NHL alums Akim Aliu, Trevor Daley, Matt Dumba, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, and Joel Ward has led to the development of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. A platform to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”
This initiative is long overdue, and Kane knows it. But in light of the death of George Floyd, it quickly became clear that enough was enough.
In the Hockey Diversity Alliance’s first official press release, they made clear the wide range of goals they set out for themselves and the entire NHL.
"“In creating our alliance, we are confident we can inspire a new generation of hockey players and fans,” the HDA said. “We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands will do so without worrying about race, gender or socioeconomic background and will be able to express their culture, identity, values, and personality without fear of retribution.”"
One of the things Kane has expressed is his identification of how hockey culture leads to overwhelming conformity. He brought this up in an interview with Sportsnet.
"“I think it’s a culture thing, for sure. You’re talking about rocking the boat – we can’t even get enough people on the boat to start. So, it would be impossible to rock the boat,” Kane said. “The problem is that hockey culture and the way it’s engrained, especially in terms of Canada and throughout minor hockey, is to put your head down, go to work, and shut your mouth. That’s essentially the message from when you step on the ice from five years or eight years old, whenever it may be. And it’s continuously pounded in to you, to conform to what everybody else is doing.”"
In the interview, he continued that even players within the locker room aggressively enforce this mentality. He argues that to make significant changes to improve diversity in hockey, this has to be eradicated.
"“When you have certain players that don’t conform to what these old-school mindsets that are at the top telling you to do, then you’re viewed as a bad apple or a problem or a bad guy. And that’s a major problem, and there’s been plenty of examples of that.”"
It’s no secret that while playing for previous teams, many have insinuated that Kane is a ‘problem’ in the locker room. But his time in San Jose is proof that this belief could not be further from the truth. Like it or not, he is ushering in a new breed of players that are willing to stand up for themselves, and when necessary, for change that is bigger than themselves as well.
The hope is moving forward that Kane’s initiative will help hockey become a more tolerant sport from the teams to the fans.
The best way to grow the sport is to make sure that people of all walks of life feel welcomed to be apart of it. When we soon reach that point, Evander Kane will be a centerpiece in helping us get there. That is what makes him an extraordinary player.