Matt Dumba on fixing hockey’s diversity problems, the Hockey Diversity Alliance


Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba had found some outlets during the NHL’s pause amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dumba, who is half Filipino, found an outlet for his frustration about the sport he loves as one of several minority players who founded the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization with the mission to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.”

He also found an outlet for his anger and his compassion, helping to create a fundraiser to rebuild Lake Street in Minneapolis, which was severely damaged during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Dumba said he would match donations up to $100,000, and the first 1,000 donors received a custom T-shirt with an image of Floyd. All donors were also entered to win a pair of custom Air Jordans. The Rebuild Minnesota fundraiser ends July 1.

We spoke with Dumba on the ESPN on Ice podcast at the end of June about the HDA, its mission, the relationship between law enforcement and the NHL, and even some “return to play” talk for the Wild. Here’s that conversation:

How did the Hockey Diversity Alliance come about? Phone calls? Text thread?

Dumba: Originally it was just kind of a text thread. Just guys being added to the conversation, leaving the conversation. We had just a bunch of dudes talking.

Akim [Aliu] and Evander [Kane] took it into their own hands and wanted to co-lead this together. They came up with seven guys that had really strong opinions and voices. Guys who were willing to stand up. Then we got into some Zoom calls, and the rest is history. We’re trying to get as many guys involved as we can because there’s strength in numbers. But at the same time, at the start, it’s hard when you have so many different opinions in a text thread or a Zoom call. So just having it at seven [players] at the start was good, so we can all be on the same page. Having that unity so that we’re a strong group and can go about making our changes together.

There are so many high-profile players involved in this group. One guy who wasn’t in there was P.K. Subban. Forgive us if there’s something behind this, but why hasn’t he been involved, and do you look to have him involved in the future?

Dumba: Yeah, we definitely hope to include P.K. in the future. Definitely trying to get as many minority players involved. You know, P.K.’s also a pretty busy dude. He’s got his own stuff going on. We’ve been in talks with him. He knows what’s going on. He supports us.

We’ve been on Zoom calls every day [for hours]. It’s very time-consuming, and that’s been the thing initially. We’re kinda walking by faith so far. None of us have been through this before. There’s a lot of stuff that we have to talk about. It’s a big commitment, and I can understand why there are some guys who are a little more reserved or haven’t taken that leap with us yet, but we’re still encouraging them to do so.

In the future, once we figure out where this is going, more guys are going to get on board. That’s what we’re hoping. I hope we get to 10. Then 20. Then 50. Then a thousand. That’s where we’re going to make the real difference: when we do have all those voices, when we’re one collective working towards a common goal — which is to eradicate racism from our game.

Your approach here is important. Most people don’t understand what it’s like to have a passion for hockey tempered with concerns about whether it’ll accept them. As you told the Star Tribune: “There’s a conversation that white parents don’t have to have with their kids that parents of players of color have, and that’s what I want to eliminate.” So how do we go about doing that? What are the smallest steps?

Dumba: That’s the thing. I hope I can look back years from now, and minority kids can look back, and say that these guys told me the stories of what they went through, but they don’t actually have to face those challenges that a lot of us had to face to get where we are. I’ve just seen the game turn away so many kids who could have been great players. I guess we don’t know. But it’s just a resentment for the game because they had to be a victim. They’re a victim of racism every time they stepped on the ice. That really hurts me.

From the HDA’s standpoint, we’re trying to create policies at the grassroots level that eliminate this. That there are penalties for this. But it’s not just about penalizing kids. Some of them just don’t know better at that time. You learn this racism or this hate, you pick it up. Little kids don’t understand the concept of it sometimes, so it’s also about teaching. You want to teach the kids. You can’t crucify a 12-year-old for growing up in a family that isn’t that open-minded or doesn’t have that tolerance. I think we have the power to make this change in our game.

It’s hard not to think about the relationship between law enforcement and the NHL when thinking about what’s happened in the past month. Teams have law enforcement appreciation nights. It’s a strong bond. What, if anything, has to change in that relationship to help the efforts of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, or what has to change in that relationship for the betterment of the community?

Dumba: I think that relationship is still going to be important, yet … I read a lot about defunding the police. A lot of people take it the wrong way when they hear that word, “defunding.” I understand it, and I actually like it [because] it links back to social work and preventative stuff beforehand: building up the people in our community and helping them out before it gets to a point where crime or something bad happens.

But you can get it twisted, too, in saying that all cops are bad. That isn’t true, either. I know a lot of good cops. But there are some rotten apples in the mix that give a bad name for them, and that has to be addressed. So starting from the ground up is the route that a lot of these forces are going to have to take.

I do believe that there is a way that the HDA can incorporate that. I don’t know if it’s a focus for us off the hop. We have a lot of things on the go. But you mentioned P.K. before: I know he’s got an initiative called Blueline Buddies, and I support that. There are opportunities for the NHL and the HDA to make a difference in communities like that and rebuild that bridge that’s been broken down by systematic racism and injustice that people in our society have faced for so long. And I do feel we’ll be a part of that rebuilding process.

You’ve been in Calgary during the coronavirus pause. What has it been like to watch everything unfolding in Minneapolis, the community that you play for? And can you tell us about the fundraiser you have going on?

Dumba: It’s been tough, you know? Being here. Being away from it. I think that’s one of the things that sparked the initiative that me and my little brother [Kyle] came up with, along with J.T. Brown. We were living vicariously through J.T. and what he was doing in the community: helping out, giving out groceries, going to peaceful protests. Being able to see that and other friends doing awesome work in Minnesota, it was like, what can I do being 1,000 miles away?

It started with some basic thoughts. My brother wanted to make a pair of shoes and raffle them off. Then we had the website, the video and it’s taken off. In the first five days, we’re at $55,000.

So many people want to know what they can do to help forward the cause. What would you tell them?

Dumba: I guess I’d first ask for a little bit of patience from us and the HDA. We’re coming out with a bunch of stuff and getting pulled every which way. Our goal is to get as many people involved as we can and really make this inclusive. [And] try to grow our game from a diversity standpoint.

We do believe it’s the greatest game in the world, but there is something a little rotten at the core of it, which is tough. If we can get through to that, eliminate that, I truly believe we’ll have so much more hockey fans and be able to reach so many more demographics. Maybe not your typical hockey fans. And that’s just exciting for me.

My two favorite players growing up were Paul Kariya and Jarome Iginla. That gave me hope. They inspired me to be the best hockey player I could be and the best person I could be. Seeing Jarome do everything he did in the community when I was younger was really cool. I hope to follow in their footsteps and pave the way for the next guys coming through. I could talk all day about it. It’s going to be awesome.

Finally, you’re on a play-in postseason team with the Wild. The NHLPA’s decision on “return to play” is coming up. Where are you on all of this?

Dumba: Hmmm … to be honest, we’re all still waiting to see what’s going on. These [COVID-19] cases popping up don’t make guys feel good about the situation, and flying all over the [U.S.] and stuff. But at the same time, they’re doing their due diligence. If they can make it happen, they can. If not, I guess that’s what it is. But none of us have been through this before. We’re all just playing the same game for the last couple of months now — the waiting game. Trying to stay in shape without peaking too early. It’s going to be crazy.

I think they’re going to make it happen, but I guess we’ll see. There are still a couple more bumps in the road. Maybe it gets pushed back a little bit, but I think it gets done.

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