The importance of Mike Grier's monumental hiring as Sharks GM

Mike Grier’s hiring as the new general manager of the San Jose Sharks is a giant step forward for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport of hockey. (Getty)
Mike Grier’s hiring as the new general manager of the San Jose Sharks is a giant step forward for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport of hockey. (Getty) (Getty Images)

Mike Grier’s hiring as the new general manager of the San Jose Sharks was more than just a step forward for the organization, it was a historic move for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport of hockey.

Grier, an NHL veteran of 1060 games, is the NHL's first ever Black general manager. His name will go down in history next to the likes of Willie O’Ree, the league's first Black player. While the Sharks were in search of the best candidate to build a championship roster, as team president Jonathan Becher told Yahoo Sports, the team was also seeking an individual who was representative of San Jose itself.

“We cast a wide net in our search for the next general manager of the San José Sharks. While we talked to a few people who had been GMs before, the majority of our candidates would have been first-timers,” Becher told Yahoo about their selection of Grier. “It was important for us to have a fresh voice as a GM, one who recognized their role as more than just head of the hockey department but a leader in the community dedicated to growing the game of hockey in a culturally diverse area like San Jose.”

Grier, who spent three seasons playing for the Sharks from 2006 until 2009, has experience as a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks, an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, and most recently as a hockey operations advisor for the New York Rangers in 2021-22. Grier was also involved in the evaluation and selection of Team USA for the 2022 World Championship.

While his resume as a player and staff member speaks for itself, the historic impact, and importance of Grier’s hiring, will be felt across the hockey world. Bernice Carnegie, the founder of the Carnegie Initiative and daughter of recently announced Hockey Hall of Fame builder Herb Carnegie, who was a pioneering Black hockey player, believes Grier’s hiring was long overdue.

“I’m delighted for Mike Grier,” Carnegie told Yahoo, “But I’m disappointed it has taken so long for something like this to happen.”

The Carnegie Initiative aims “to make hockey more diverse and inclusive,” and Bernice, as well as her father, who passed away in 2012, dreamed of creating space in the game for all people. She believes the hiring of Grier by the Sharks is a step in that direction.

“We had hoped that things would progress much faster than they have, and it’s a commentary on our humanity, that those opportunities weren’t afforded much sooner,” said Carnegie. “In saying that, however, there always must be a first, and there always has to be someone who opens the door. There has to be someone courageous enough to offer the opportunity, and there has to be someone courageous enough to say we’re going to do things differently and that it’s ok to include people that don’t look like us and embrace what they bring to the table, and to the ice in this case.”

Carnegie has full confidence in Grier, who Sharks president Jonathan Becher praised in the team’s press conference announcing his hiring as an individual who displayed a “continued commitment to culture. Culture not just on the ice, but off the ice as well.”

Becher discussed Grier’s personification of the San Jose Sharks' organizational principal, to “say what you mean and then do what you say.” According to Bernice Carnegie, the Sharks also displayed that principal in their hiring of the NHL’s first Black general manager. “I commend the San Jose Sharks for taking a look at Mike and saying, ‘you’ve got the qualifications, we’re going with you.’ Instead of just talking about it, they actually did something about it,” she said.

While Mike Grier will be tasked with fixing the on-ice performance of a team that finished 22nd overall last season, and has missed the postseason for three consecutive years, his greatest impact, according to Carnegie, might only be seen within the next generation. It will be a generation of young hockey fans, specifically Black hockey fans, who can see themselves represented in the upper echelons of the game, now not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. When Mike Grier made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in 1996, he became the first Black NHL player born and trained in the United States. Now, he’s the first Black NHL general manager.

“It means everything, it’s hard to be what you can’t see,” explained Carnegie. “When we do not have equal representation in decision making positions, it makes it that much harder for those coming behind us to look and say, ‘that could be me.’ Normally, most people have a role model that they look up to that helps them through life’s challenges.

"We would like to see more people of diversity that can provide that role modelling. It makes a stronger community when everyone feels like they have an opportunity to do the best and be the best of who they can be. It gives them that hope.”

With the hiring of Mike Grier, a new generation has hope.

Grier will now look to handle his first NHL Entry Draft, explore the free-agent market, and also needs to hire a new head coach prior to the start of the 2022-23 NHL campaign. Full steam ahead after history was made.

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