Over the last two months, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.
NBC Sports Washington is launching the fourth part of an ongoing multiplatform content series entitled Race in America: Caps United for Change as part of the Washington Capitals' initiatives related to diversity in hockey and racial equality.
This week, Capitals players Braden Holtby, Brenden Dillon, Garnet Hathaway and an alumnus, Joel Ward, joined host Chris Miller for the last of these roundtable discussions to share their thoughts, experiences and how they're using their platform in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.
NBCSW will present Race in America: Caps United for Change as a five-part daily short-form digital video series on NBCSportsWashington.com, with new episodes published Monday, Aug. 17, through Friday, Aug. 21, and as a 30-minute television special, which debuted on Tuesday, August 18, at 6:30 p.m. before Game 4 of the Capitals-Islanders first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Growing up with a dream of playing in the NHL, when Garnet Hathaway met a few Capitals players as a young kid it meant everything to him.
"It always brings me back to my childhood, and I got to meet a couple of the Capitals when I was eight years old," he told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller in a Zoom interview for the Race in America - Capitals United for Change series. "It was a dream."
About to turn eight, Hathaway got to watch a game from the owners' suite at what was then MCI Center because his uncle had once worked with owner Ted Leonsis. In the process, he got to meet some Caps players in the locker room after the game.
Now, 20 years later and on the other side as a player himself, he knows exactly how important that experience was and has vowed to do the same for kids today - especially those without the same access and opportunities that he had.
As a part of their diversity and racial equality initiatives, the Capitals have taken a three-pronged approach to improve education, awareness and youth hockey in their local communities. Their efforts are to make hockey a more accepting game and give opportunities to people from all backgrounds. It is a stance that has taken on added urgency since the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody on May 25 and the ensuing racial justice protests that gripped the country.
Hathaway is determined to be part of that approach and to him it starts with giving back to his community. He and his teammates at the very least can help to provide opportunities for young players in the sport.
"If we could just give them the vision of it, making it a possibility, because they should be able to have that possibility," Hathaway said. "They should be able to dream no matter the color of their skin, no matter their circumstances. If we can help make that a reality, not only are they going to get a lot out of it, but as a team, I think we're going to get a lot of joy out of it, and have a great purpose and hopefully even spread that throughout the league."
The Capitals have been leaders in the NHL on the subject of creating a more diverse and inclusive space in the past month and more initiatives are planned to better the lives and experiences of people within the NHL, but also those who aspire to play the game or just enjoy it as fans.
According to Hathaway, a major component of that change begins with youth. That's why the Capitals organization has taken noticeable steps to improve youth hockey.
Beginning next season, the club will introduce a fund to help eliminate the financial barriers that can limit a young player's pursuit of competing at a higher level of hockey. Capitals players will be able to contribute a sum to the initiative based on selected on-ice performance categories such as goals, assists or wins.
The Capitals also plan to help build ice rinks in low-income regions of the D.C area – adding to the one dozen facilities they have constructed thus far. They will also host practices at Fort Dupont Ice Arena and invite students from D.C. public schools, community centers and local ice hockey programs to attend.
In working with Players Against Hate, a local organization whose mission is to "increase awareness and stop racism and name-calling by youth athletes, their teams and coaches, their families and spectators," the Capitals will film a public service announcement and begin with the powerful phrase "Hate has no place in hockey" to showcase local youth and the role diversity plays in the sport.
As Hathaway showed through his own experience, children are impacted by those they look up to. There is a place for NHL players and teams in the fight for racial equality.
"For the Capitals to step up like this as an organization and have the players on the team be as excited as they are about it, I think that's a great stride," Hathaway said.
MORE RACE IN AMERICA:
- Joel Ward: Experiences with racism in hockey
- Braden Holtby: Working to educate himself
- Race in America: Caps United for change