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Sunday, May 22, 2022

With Just One Season In The Books, The Kraken Set The Bar For Diversity And Inclusion In The NHL

Everett Fitzhugh, left and JT Brown, right, are two of the many African Americans working in prominent positions with the Seattle Kraken. Courtesy Photo

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

Although the NHL season for the Seattle Kraken may be over, the organization in itself is a winner when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

The Kraken, as an organization, is one of the very few professional sports teams where people of color hold executive level positions throughout the company.

Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Seattle Kraken, has made it a mission to make sure that the organization participates in the idea that all people can be a part of and love the sport of hockey.

“I think all we are is an organization that’s reflective of the community we serve,” said Leiweke. “I don’t know that we’re necessarily unique.  Last time I checked, half the world’s population were women, but they’ve been so understated in the world of sports. Today, 45 percent of our front office represent gender diversity, our front office now has 25 percent BIPOC diversity, and that’s important.”

While it’s still pretty rare to see Black hockey players in the NHL, the Kraken have shown that a lack of representation on the playing surface does not preclude NHL franchises from having an inclusive working environment and culture of diversity throughout their respective organizations.

In August 2020, the Kraken made history as they announced Everett Fitzhugh as their first radio broadcaster, making him the first Black play-by-play announcer in the NHL. The Kraken would later introduce former NHL player JT Brown, who is also African American, as their color TV analyst, and the duo would make history during Black History Month as the first all-Black broadcast team to announce an NHL game when the Kraken played the Winnipeg Jets on February 17.

“It was surprising at first to see a hockey team put such a massive commitment and dedication to diversity simply because it has never been done before,” says Fitzhugh.

“The vision the Kraken organization has set about being representative of where we see this sport wanting to go and representative of the population and the community that this team was going to play for that spoke volumes to me,” he added. “The Kraken has always believed in equity, inclusion and diversity. It is not a PR line, it is something that Tod Leiweke, and by virtue of him, and all of us in the organization, we fundamentally believe it is in our core that hockey is for everyone.”

According to Eric Pettigrew, an African Americans who serves as Vice President of Government Relations and Outreach for the Kraken, the strides that the Kraken have made when it comes to diversity and inclusion are by design. In addition to Pettigrew, the organization has a number of African Americans in key positions within the organization, including Kendall Tyson, Senior Vice President of Business Analytics; Erik Jones, Vice President of Technology; and Senior Legal Counsel Teshome Hewan, who is of African descent, to name a few. The truth of the matter is that the Kraken have been intentional about diversity and a culture of diversity throughout the organization since day one.

“Tod Leiweke, the CEO of the Kraken, always said it was one of the first things he wanted to accomplish,” says Pettigrew. “He talked about how he wanted to start to change the face of not only hockey but sports overall. He was really excited [when forming the franchise] because he wanted to create opportunities for people of color in this league.”

“The thing that I liked about this organization was not that we have to get  Black people in here, Tod was like I want the best,” added Pettigrew. “And in order for us to get the best, I have to toss a wider net than the nets that had been cast before in this business, so he cast a wide net and as a result he got a lot of good Black people.”

De’Aira Anderson, Corporate Communications Manager for the Seattle Kraken, says that the thing she likes about working for the Kraken is that they are not just trying to check a box, but they are truly looking to hire the best people throughout the organization.

“This is definitely the culture of the organization,” says Anderson. “We emphasize diversity and inclusion from the ground up, it is a company wide goal as well as our cultural goal. But it is also about getting the right people for the job and we wanted to make sure in doing so that we looked for the best talent and [hired a diverse group of people in the process]. That’s how we are building our organization and will continue to build.”

Many businesses have taken time over the last year to examine the culture of their workplace. Business leaders in sports knew but were reminded of the importance that inclusion and diversity plays in creating a workplace culture that has a direct correlation to the overall success of an organization.

“We are really proud of having an organization of people of different backgrounds, different races, genders and sexual orientations,” says Anderson. “So that we have a variety and diversity of ideas in the room. We are specifically proud of being a leader in this space, especially in the NHL, and it is not just for show or to pat ourselves on the back, but it is truly something that we believe in.”

Experts say that companies that make diversity efforts a core component of their recruiting and retention strategies have a better chance of attracting and keeping the most dedicated, engaged and productive employees. For the Kraken and the atmosphere that they have created throughout their organization is a badge of honor that promotes pride, progress, and an attempt to make the game of hockey appeal to a broader cross-section of society that should not be overlooked.

“I come to work every day, and I have more Black co-workers on one zoom call than I have had Black co-workers in my entire career, period, at any job,” said Fitzhugh. “I never worked with this many people of color, people who look like me, ever, and I have worked in hockey my entire career and it was surprising in a good way and it made me feel comfortable.”

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