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Nazem Kadri saga shows NHL's anti-racism initiatives are failing

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Stepping on the ice for Game 4 of the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri was met with a chorus of boos. It came after days of racist attacks and threats of physical violence toward the Colorado star.

Almost two years after the NHL announced “initiatives to combat racism” and “accelerate inclusion efforts,” racism in the National Hockey League remains on full display.

During Game 3, Kadri was involved in a collision with Blues’ netminder Jordan Binnington, which resulted in an injury to Binnington that ended his playoffs. What followed were some rough hours and days for Kadri and his family.

On social media, Kadri’s wife posted a sample of messages the 13-year NHL veteran received in response to the incident, which the NHL deemed incidental. It was a barrage of Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, and threats. Kadri, a London, Ontario product, is of Lebanese descent and is Muslim.

In response to the threats, additional police and security were brought in to protect Kadri prior to game four in St. Louis.

“I guess someone had contacted [the St. Louis Police] about some hateful messages and I was able to read those messages and they were very extreme,” Kadri told media. “I just tried to shake it off. They did a good job of assuring me and making me feel safe.”

Nazem Kadri and his family have dealt with the worst of the worst over the past few days. (AP)
Nazem Kadri and his family have dealt with the worst of the worst over the past few days. (AP)

While the hockey world had a chance to stand behind Kadri and show that racism has no place in the sport, many chose silence, or to lay blame on Kadri. In a game-day press conference, St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube was asked about the threats and racism Kadri was facing. Berube responded by shaking his head and saying “no comment,” before moving on to the next question from a different media member.

Akim Aliu, who himself faced racism in professional hockey and is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance alongside Kadri quickly responded to Berube’s lack of comment via Twitter, “Hockey culture at its finest ladies and gents. Head Coach of a National Hockey League team has no comment on a fellow player receiving death threats and Islamophobic slurs. Same guy that called a black player a monkey as a player. No issues here, as you were.”

Without overarching support, Kadri was left to prepare for Game 4 knowing a hostile crowd — and a hostile opponent — would be waiting.

On the ice, St. Louis players including David Perron tried to exact physical revenge on Kadri. Perron cross-checked Kadri from behind before piling atop him and landing a punch. Following Kadri’s second goal of the game, Perron nearly missed with a high elbow. Despite this, Kadri tallied a hat trick and added an assist in Colorado’s 6-3 win. After his first goal, Kadri put his glove to his ear while celebrating as the boos grew louder. It was another moment some used to victim-blame Kadri, rather than denounce threats and racist slurs he faced.

Long time Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean, while speaking on Sportsnet, stated Kadri was “taunting” and “going after a hostile crowd.” It was the same crowd that could be seen waving middle fingers and screaming at Kadri at various points in the game.

The racist comments and vitriol Kadri experienced in the lead up to game four is not new. He stated in another interview with TNT, “Unfortunately I’ve been dealing with that for a long time. It’s sad to say, but that’s just the fact of the matter.”

Across professional hockey this season, racist events have recurred in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL. Earlier this year, AHLer Boko Imama faced on-ice anti-Black racism while playing with the Tucson Roadrunners. Imama later made his NHL debut and scored his first career goal with the Arizona Coyotes. Last season during the NHL playoffs, it was Edmonton Oilers defender Ethan Bear, an Indigenous man, who was subjected to racist slurs and abuse online.

While many came to the support of Kadri, Imama, and Bear, it’s an issue becoming all too common in the National Hockey League, and feeder systems. For example, in March, the Greater Toronto Hockey League, the world’s largest minor hockey organization and a common development ground for future NHL players, released findings that 40% of BIPOC players in the league had reported hearing racial slurs.

In 2020, the NHL announced initiatives aimed at combating racism in hockey. As NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr stated in the release, "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, and to make our sport available and accessible to all.”

Only a month later, the Hockey Diversity Alliance, for whom Kadri is a member, notably cut ties with the NHL stating “The support we hoped to receive from the NHL was not delivered, and instead the NHL focused on performative public relations efforts that seemed aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game.”

Almost two years later, when additional police were called in to protect Nazem Kadri, and an outpouring of racist and xenophobic attacks reached the Kadri family, it appears the NHL’s initiatives to create an environment “free from racism and discrimination” have to this point failed. Despite this, organizations including the Hockey Diversity Alliance remain committed to ending racism in hockey and supporting people of color within the NHL, including Nazem Kadri.

“We are proud of Nazem for his leadership and bravery during these difficult times,” the Hockey Diversity Alliance Tweeted. “True role model for the next generation. Racism and discrimination has no place in our game and we are steadfast on accomplishing these goals!”

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