A recommended New Years’ 2020 resolution for all Twin Cities teams: You are a month away from your perfunctory Black History Month observation during February home games, after which Black contributions and accomplishments are virtually ignored the rest of the year. You can do better!
“How can clubs accomplish this goal in a mutually beneficial, authentic way?” Black Girl Hockey Club Founder/Director Renee Hess asked during her six-part presentation to NHL officials. Titled “Authentic Engagement during Black History Month,” Hess’ hockey-specific call to action is easily applicable to our local pro and college teams as well.
- Hire people of color. “A culture change includes hiring and paying people of color in any/all roles… [It] becomes much more authentic when the person working with the team looks like [the] audience you want to engage.”
It remains a head-scratcher that our local teams’ marketing and communications departments are mostly staffed by Whites. I personally know two Black individuals who applied for jobs in the last couple of years in the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. Their applications and resumes basically got the “thanks but no thanks” response without serious consideration.
- Engage year-round. “Nothing is less authentic than parading out Black people only once a year.” The Wolves and Gophers do this each February, showing short tribute bits on the arena videoboard, or having Blacks on the court during timeouts.
- Promote in multiple communities. “Invite community personalities to games.” Our community has them—these teams need to do their due diligence and find them. They can be regularly recognized just as teams have recognized military personnel each game.
- Highlight Black players. “…Invite past/present players to engage with the media.”
- Listen to your fans. “Take criticism and suggestions.” Engage better with Black media and fans. Learn and understand our needs and focus.
- Avoid performative inclusiveness. “Why schedule a [diversity] night if your team is not going to promote it?” The Twins, for example, schedule Jackie Robinson Day each April, and the Saints have Larry Doby Night in the summertime, and hardly any Blacks are there.
Hess’ excellent and well-thought-out presentation from late last year isn’t something new, but it serves as a stark reminder and a strong suggestion to NHL teams to do better if they wish to see more Black fans. Or better yet, are these teams really serious about marketing to Black fans and being more culturally specific in attracting them to games?
Stop the usual mumbo-jumbo “We can’t find Blacks to hire,” “Blacks don’t come to our games,” blah, blah, blah that team officials, especially the ones around here, tend to feed us. Although PWMs (predominately White media) don’t care about diversity and inclusion, we do.
This should be a New Year’s resolution to each team in town: Wolves, Gophers, Twins, Vikings, Wild, Saints, United and Lynx.
Hire. Promote. Engage all year round. Seriously listen to fans of color. Stop the lip service when asked about this by non-PWMs.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.