When Bradley Sheppard heard about the racist slur directed at a 16-year-old Halifax player during a hockey tournament on P.E.I. last winter, he said he felt sick to his stomach.
As a Black athlete who is also from Nova Scotia, he could relate.
"But as an educator, I also know that racism is pervasive in our society," he said. "It's no secret. It just seems to be that hockey is like the spotlight now."
Sheppard's new job is to help prevent what happened to Mark Connors from happening to anyone else.
He has been hired by Hockey P.E.I. as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant.
"He will help shape a more diverse and accepting environment for our athletes and staff and will work with us to deliver more programming to our membership around inclusion, equity and productivity that will in hope, make us all better people and teammates," Hockey P.E.I. executive director Connor Cameron was quoted as saying in a news release this week.
Sheppard knows there will be challenges, including some "uncomfortable conversations." The fact that the players who were accused of making the slurs directed at Connors appealed their suspensions is telling, he thinks.
"I think people are afraid to admit they have these unconscious biases or specific, conscious racist attitudes or sexist attitudes, homophobic attitudes."
That gets amplified in sports when you add aggression, speed and the will to win to the equation, he said,
"Once you pour that onto an already fragile social environment where homophobia, transphobia and racism live, you're bound to get a negative result."
Will speak at September workshop
Sheppard, the owner of Sheppard Diversity Training, a service which specializes in helping to combat racism, said education is the key.
He will be attending a Sept. 16-17 Hockey P.E.I. workshop, where he will address the leaders of minor hockey associations from across the Island.
Throughout the 2022-23 season and beyond, Sheppard will be holding anti-racism and education sessions for Hockey P.E.I.'s membership.
All this is working toward what he said is his long-term goal: "Advance a culture of inclusion … where athletes can be who they want to be, free of harm."