MINNEAPOLIS - Matt Dumba remembers life as a youth hockey player quite differently than most. He was often the only player of color on his team, and often left the rink fighting back tears.
He’d have to have emotional conversations with his family in the car, often being the subject of racial slurs while just trying to play the game he loved. He was told to have tougher skin, told to take the high road. He was even told it was happening because he was likely one of the best players on the ice.
The reality for Dumba is it was because he was a minority in a predominantly white sport.
“When I think back about that, that’s a conversation white parents don’t have to have with their kids. Nor should parents of color,” Dumba said Tuesday via Zoom.
Dumba considers himself a leader who can create change with his platform. Now one of just two players of color on the Minnesota Wild, and in the wake of the George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Dumba was named Monday to the executive committee of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance. It’s led by Akim Aliu and Evander Kane, and other executive committee members include Trevor Daley, Wayne Simmons, Chris Stewart and Joel Ward.
Their mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey, strive for positive change within the game and society and work with the NHL on important changes as they strive for more inclusivity and diversity across the game to make it more accessible and affordable to communities of color. The NHL currently has less than five percent players of color.
Dumba wants to pioneer and engineer youth hockey in inner cities, where it’s generally more financially difficult to afford youth hockey between costs for equipment, and ice time for practice.
“I think to promote the diversity of the game in all levels of the game really starts with the community outreach. Just making hockey more accessible for them and more affordable,” Dumba said. “I want everyone to truly feel like hockey can be a sport for anyone who wants to participate.”
Dumba is also motivated by Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. Former officer Derek Chauvin is now in jail facing murder charges, and the three other officers involved in the incident are charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Through his work with the ACES Foundation, which helps inner city youth, Dumba knows families directly affected by the civil unrest that took place in Minneapolis after Floyd’s death. It’s been tough for him to watch unfold from afar. He remains at his home in Canada, quarantined due to the Covid-19 pandemic and waiting for word on when TRIA Rink will open, and when the NHL will resume play.
Right now he’s focused on a greater purpose: Helping those affected by Floyd’s death, and creating a platform for change.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to help those people and kind of live up to that statement that I gave that I’m going to work towards this tirelessly, changing stuff in our society and changing stuff in our sport,” Dumba said.
He’s heard from teammates and other NHL players since forming HDA, all giving their full support, offering a listening ear and asking what they can do to help.
In their first groundbreaking movement, the Hockey Diversity Alliance held a virtual meeting with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been out of the NFL since the end of the 2016 season. He went publicly protested racial inequality, police brutality and social injustice by taking a knee during the National Anthem.
It’s become a polarizing issue across sports, and Kaepernick hasn’t signed with any team since.
Dumba said the talk with Kaepernick was about his experience being outspoken on racism and social injustice, preaching unity and not staying inside the box.
“We have an opportunity to change the game right now, and to really just make a stand for what is right. At the end of the day he was just a real dude having real conversation with us, that’s what I got out of it. I respect the hell out of that dude,” Dumba said.
Dumba says it’s unfortunate that it took Floyd’s death for racism to come to the forefront of life at the moment.
“It’s just so sad that it came to this point and this was the inevitable boiling point of people actually waking up and realizing that there are problems in the U.S., in Canada, in other countries and there is this divide,” Dumba said.
If and when the NHL resumes play, the Wild will be in the league’s approved 24-team playoff. Dumba doesn’t know when he’ll come back to the Twin Cities to get ready, but says his own mother expressed concerns about his return to the Twin Cities after demonstrations and riots after Floyd’s death made news around the globe.
“She’s scared about everything that she saw in the news, she’s scared by the death of George Floyd, the deaths of other black males in the U.S. that over these last years has just piled up. She had the right to say that and feel that way, but I don’t think any mom should have to feel that way. That’s what I think we’re trying to end,” Dumba said.
Dumba’s hope is that within 10 years, NHL rosters consist of at least half players of color. Some could have players of color in the majority, but mainly, he wants the game to be available for anyone who wants to play it.
For Dumba, being involved with the Hockey Diversity Alliance is the first step to making the game more inclusive to all races, at all levels and at some point, to put an end racism and social injustice as best they can. Change won’t happen overnight, but he’s doing his part.
“Putting myself out there and being a part of this alliance is a huge step, but I’m going to keep doing stuff with my community, keep doing stuff with HDA and just be there for those who might not have anyone there right now. I’m just totally committed to that,” Dumba said.