Cultural managements

Kennedy’s work with NHL GMs key to advancing hockey’s cultural revolution

Editor’s note: The following story deals with sexual assault and may be distressing for some readers.

If you or someone you know needs help, those in Canada can find centres, crisis lines and services specific to each province. here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.

MANALAPAN, Fla. — It was widely considered the most important hour the seven NHL general managers spent together on the first day of their meetings in Palm Beach County.

There has been time spent on video review and coach challenges, on the ability to make adjustments to be able to waive major penalties rather than just reduce them to minors, on the increase in knee incidents around the league and on the NHL awards show during the Stanley Cup Final.

But none of that is as relevant as the cultural revolution the NHL has embarked on. And Monday’s conversation, led by former NHL player and Respect Group founder Sheldon Kennedy, NHL Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs Kim Davis, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill regarding the Respect Hockey initiative Davis presented at NHL Board of Governors meetings in December, was an important step in this process.

For too long Kennedy, who bravely came forward in 1996 to detail the abuse he suffered at the hands of his former junior coach, Graham James, has been left out of the discussion. When Kyle Beach’s trauma as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks came to light in such gruesome and disturbing detail in 2021, Kennedy expressed interest in working with the NHL to initiate cultural change and provide training through Respect Group. , but commissioner Gary Bettman dismissed the need to engage with Kennedy, saying, “Sheldon’s experience was not at NHL level.”

Bettman and the NHL then changed course before the board of governors meeting at this hotel in December. They brought Kennedy on board to implement Phase 1 of the four-phase plan Davis detailed in the meetings – to train owners, general managers, coaches and players at all levels of hockey on proper behaviors. and inappropriate – and, on Monday, he had an audience with Bettman and the game’s biggest power-brokers.

Kennedy came away from the discussion feeling like everyone involved was fully engaged.

Davis called the conversation “rich”.

“It was excellent,” Dubas said. “It’s very rare that you get the chance to have this type of panel in front of this type of group. And I thought that was a great step just to have a conversation with everyone. And I thought in particular, obviously, Kim and Sheldon were outstanding.

First-time general manager Kent Hughes, who manages the Montreal Canadiens, said he was enthralled by the discussion, impressed with Davis and Kennedy and particularly enthralled by what the three GMs on the panel shared.

“Kyle talked about what they’re doing in Toronto and why they’re doing it and how they’re trying to create a more inclusive environment,” he said. “Kevin was great to say, ‘Even if you think you’re late, don’t be afraid to come out and say, ‘Let’s go now, let’s not wait.’ And Jim played with Sheldon, and it was kind of interesting when he said he was a veteran trying to save his place in pro hockey and Sheldon was this rising superstar. Jim was like, “I didn’t know (this that Kennedy had been through), and maybe I didn’t pay attention and I need to do a better job.”

For too long, hardly anyone at the top of the hockey world paid enough attention to changing the things that had led to toxicity in the sport’s environment.

But Kennedy didn’t get stuck on it.

“We had to start,” he said. “I had to start learning about it. I learned a lot walking alongside Kim, and I will continue to learn. But I never thought (it would be for GMs) or dreamed or wanted to get it back (30 years ago when it first got involved in this space). I was just trying to figure out how to organize my life.

“But I think what I’ve learned over the years is that if we continually try to put one foot in front of the other and do the right thing, good things happen. I think it’s a very good opportunity for the NHL. I think it’s about growing the game, I really believe in it. One of the things that has impressed me the most about this job since I’ve been in touch with Kim and Gary and the league and others is the drive to be better and the way they want to do it right and it’s our job to help them, and it’s my job to help how can I help you.

“I’m definitely not the end of it all, be it all, I’ll tell you. But I want to do what I can to help the game and help those in charge of the game.”

He started by assigning what he called “interactive online training.”

All NHL teams were originally scheduled to do so by the end of June, but Davis explained that only Canadian teams will do so by then while American teams will have it completed by the end of August/early September due necessary adjustments to some of the language to meet US compliance standards.

The Winnipeg Jets were the first organization to complete the interactive learning process, which was explained by Kennedy as follows:

“You have to get the answer right to move on,” he said. “You take it at your own pace, you can take it on your phone. All the players took it, all the coaches took it, all the minor league coaches took it, and all the front and back office staff took it.

He said the Jets’ returns have been “phenomenal.”

“We do an inbound survey and an outbound survey, and one of the questions we like to refer to is ‘Have you ever participated in any of these types of behavior before or witnessed it?’ and the numbers always double after going through the program when we ask them again afterwards,” Kennedy said. “So to me, that tells me that a lot of people didn’t know where the line was drawn. And we’re not just talking here about the egregious and egregious abuses; we are talking about many subtle issues that were present in any workplace.

Kennedy added, this is just the beginning.

“We’re not living in a fantasy that the digital program is a one-stop-shop that’s going to save world hunger here,” the 52-year-old said. “There is more than that. It’s the beginning, and for us, as we’ve discussed in this room, it needs to be integrated into everything we do. And if we want to advance the culture with the game, the teams and the individuals, it’s about practice, not perfection. But we need to build a strategy within our organization to keep training to improve in this space.

Considering how far behind hockey is, that’s a huge task.

“I think it’s also important for you to recognize that we’re undertaking across the entire ecosystem of hockey — that cohesive training — has never happened in any other sport before,” Davis said. “It’s a big deal that we’re taking from junior junior hockey right through to professional hockey, creating this unique approach to understanding and being clear about what’s acceptable and what’s not in relation to these types of behaviors. . This has never been done in sport before.

Hughes sees it as imperative.

“At the end of the day, even if we were to think about it in a crude and inhumane way, people do better when they’re in a comfortable environment,” he said. “And there will be a balancing act because we are talking about mental health and professional sport, it is a very fierce world and these children – and they are children – have to face so many things in public about them. . They are publicly listed, you have social media issues. So I think to that extent we can try to create that environment where people feel more comfortable and that will allow them to perform better.

Based on how Davis — and more importantly Kennedy — characterized the conversation, it seems everyone in the meeting came away feeling the same as Hughes.

The fact that the conversation even took place trumps anything on Monday’s record.

“I want to see the game grow and I want to see the game be the best it can be,” Kennedy said. “We’ve seen the game change dramatically on the ice over the years. It got better and it got better and it got better, and I think we’ve fallen a bit behind in this space. I don’t know if it’s directly hockey’s fault, but I think one of the catalysts for change is often when incidents happen, and there have been incidents that have happened. And I think organizations can do a couple of things; you put your head in the sand, bury yourself and move on, or you may recognize that, ‘You know what? We need to be better in this space, learn more and understand how we are going to improve and enable our teams and staff to be better in this space.

“It’s about keeping it simple and making organizations understand that the players who are more than likely to be given to them today aren’t afraid to talk about these issues. In fact, they expect us to talk about these issues, and that’s different… If I hadn’t had experience, I probably wouldn’t have learned about these issues, because I didn’t. I never knew about it. Understanding that even is is huge. These issues cause a lot of fear in many people and our goal is to build trust around all of these issues that are in front of us, under the umbrella of respect, so that we can respond appropriately and create a transparent and open dressing room. . so we can talk about anything… There are a lot of stressors that come up, but we can never deal with all of that until we can create this open, transparent and safe locker room space.