The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of four teams shortlisted for the 2022 ESPN Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year, awarded to a club or team that demonstrates how teamwork can create a meaningful impact in a community. or a cause.
Recognized for its efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in hockey, Pittsburgh is nominated alongside the NFL’s Denver Broncos, NBA’s Miami Heat and WNBA’s Seattle Storm. The winner will be announced at the Sports Humanitarian Awards presented by ESPN, part of ESPY 2022 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN).
“It’s a huge honor. It really is,” said Jim Britt, executive director of the Penguins’ charitable and community outreach program, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. “Throughout our organization there is a mission statement that we see often. Every employee gets it [on] their first day here. This mission statement has two purposes; those two goals are to win the Stanley Cup and to have a positive impact in our community. »
This second goal has recently focused on making the sport more accessible to young players of color.
On June 15, 2021, the Penguins introduced the Willie O’Ree Academy, named after the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who became the first black person to play in the NHL on January 18, 1958 with the Bruins of Boston. The academy provides educational, social and mentorship opportunities for young black hockey players ages 10-17. Five months later, in conjunction with the City of Pittsburgh, the Penguins opened the Hunt Armory ice rink in the Shadyside neighborhood on November 26. It was the first public hockey rink built in the city in nearly 25 years, offering free hockey and diversity programming. for kids.
“Over the past few years we’ve really taken great pride as an organization in trying to push the bar forward by creating more diversity in our game,” Britt said. “We’re very proud to take that community investment to the next level, I think. Frankly, it’s been recognized, echoed.”
A simple suggestion from Tracey McCants Lewis, assistant general counsel for the Penguins and director of human resources, inspired the Willie O’Ree Academy.
In a June 2020 meeting with members of the organization, Lewis acknowledged the importance of initiatives that attract new fans of color before noting that remembering young black hockey players is just as vital. who have already found the sport but might not play with it or be trained. by anyone like them.
“It was like a light bulb, an upsetting moment for a lot of us,” Britt said. “These 35 kids who are currently at the Willie O’Ree Academy are already on traveling hockey teams. We’re not going to pick up these kids and bring them to a hockey rink for the first time.
“They’ve already broken through the barriers that keep most people from playing hockey. … These kids have already broken through all those barriers and said, ‘I love hockey. “”
The Penguins Foundation often provides aid throughout the region, most recently distributing $887,060 in grants to 61 local organizations through proceeds from the 50/50 raffle during the 2021-22 season. Organizations included the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown, the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.
It’s just the latest part of the Penguins’ community outreach since selecting Mario Lemieux with the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NHL Draft.
Lemieux established the Mario Lemieux Foundation in 1993, which is dedicated to cancer research, patient care and supporting families in difficult medical situations. The foundation was started by Lemieux after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, now known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lemieux is now co-owner and president of the Penguins.
captain of the penguins Sidney Crosby launched the Little Penguins Learn to Play Hockey program in 2008. The program, which has since spread across the league, is an introductory program for children ages 5-9 and provides free equipment to participants. Logan Cooley, selected by the Arizona Coyotes with the third overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, played the program’s first season in Pittsburgh in 2008-09.
Crosby and longtime teammate, striker Yevgeny Malkinalso purchase a suite so local kids can enjoy Pittsburgh’s 41 home games each season.
Since Fenway Sports Group agreed to buy the Penguins on Nov. 29, 2021, Britt said they’ve been “steadfast” in maintaining those efforts. He added that receiving the nomination will also allow the Penguins and its foundation to do even more.
“It’s humbling, I think, to be recognized on a stage of this size,” Britt said. “Really, for the organization, it’s a remarkable honor. You’re talking about a few hundred teams in the North American major leagues. To be one of only four in any sport, I think it’s is an amazing achievement for our company. It shows how important this is, the work that we are trying to do.”