NHL, players unite on anti-racism, pro-voting measures

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New York (AFP)

The National Hockey League and its players union announced a number of anti-racism and inclusion initiatives Thursday, including league-wide days off to allow employee voting in US and Canadian elections.

The measures follow up an earlier two-day shutdown of the Stanley Cup playoffs as part of a major stoppage in the wake of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks walkout to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The NHL Players Association and the league are partnering with the Hockey Diversity Alliance on several measures.

"We applaud NHL Players for recognizing the importance of this moment and for coming together as part of a genuine movement for change," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We look forward to working with all voices of change to fight for equality and broaden access to the game we all love.

"The initiatives we're announcing are the result of that recommitment to making the NHL more inclusive and welcoming and to using the privilege of our platform to fight racism."

Bettman acknowledged efforts by the league, especially in conjunction with Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, but "we know we can and must do more. And we will."

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said: "Everyone should be able to live and work in an environment that is inclusive, and one that is free from racism and discrimination in any form. In our sport, from the NHL to youth programs, we must take actions to achieve that goal."

The league and union plan mandatory inclusion and diversity training for all NHL players and NHLPA staff members during training camp and the start of the 2020-21 season.

NHL employees will take part in an inclusion education program focused on anti-racism, unconscious bias, dimensions of identity, micro-aggressions and cultural competency.

The NHL will support the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University to improve the criminal justice system.

The NHL vowed to build a more diverse business pipeline to engage more minority-owned organizations with the NHL and its teams.

The league formed an Executive Inclusion Council (EIC) comprised of Owners, former players and team and NHL executives. Bettman and Buffalo Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula will co-chair the council, whose goal is to identify tangible steps for inclusion.

The NHL will fund programs to support more minority participation in ice hockey at all levels.

Several clubs have already set up using their home arenas as polling places. Other such measures will be pursued with local officials in NHL markets to focus on voter education.