On August 27th, 2020, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians, and Cleveland Browns announced they would be forming a “Sports Alliance” in Cleveland. According to the press release, the Sports Alliance will work on developing “a sustainable and direct strategy to address social injustice facing the city of Cleveland and all Northeast Ohio communities”. They will also focus on “improving the relationship between law enforcement and its citizens, encouraging nonpartisan voting activities and increasing the opportunities for quality education for everyone”.
Since the Cleveland Monsters are a member of the Cavaliers organization, I spent a few minutes talking with Ben Adams, Director of Marketing and Communications, about the Monsters involvement in the Sports Alliance, the importance of voting, and the different ways the organization is trying to make the sport of hockey more diverse and inclusive.
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Elaine Shircliff: How did it come about for the Monsters to get involved with the Sports Alliance?
Ben Adams: As you saw from the announcement, the Sports Alliance, it’s really being vetted by the three big league teams in Cleveland. The Cavs, Browns, and Indians. And we’ve had representation from our team. Our organization has been pretty aggressive about letting people know where we stand, as the Cavaliers organization at large, from the beginning. So, diversity and inclusion efforts have been a big focus of our organization even before everything this summer started happening. It just so happens we already had the structure to kind of help bring this thing to life between the three big league teams.
The three leaders in the alliance are your top level executives, our general managers, head coaches, and then the Monsters as a part of the Cavaliers organization are certainly a part of the call to action on community movements and initiatives.
Right now, some of the things we’re doing as the Cleveland Monsters to impact some of the areas addressed in the announcement are 1) voting. It’s been a team effort so far with our entire organization. We have a voting task force that has representatives from the Monsters, Cavaliers, and Charge front offices. Those team members were instrumental with getting Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse approved as a polling location on November 3rd for the election. This task force focused on voting as our first immediate area of action is also working on things like voter registration, access to voting, making sure people know the important deadlines and what they need to do to make sure their voice is heard, and just using our platform. I see it as we have an opportunity here as a trusted source with our fans to tell folks that this is important to us and we hope this is important to our fans and community as well. So, the first big thing is the effort around voting. Particularly the FieldHouse as a polling location on November 3rd.
ES: Why do the Monsters and Cavs think voting is an important initiative to embrace right now?
BA: I think, just like a lot of people over the summer, we saw what was happening in our community and we wanted to start finding ways we could impact change and help other’s voices be heard. The most immediate way we could do that is supporting this voting effort.
The other thing that makes this super important this year is we are able to provide a place for people to vote with a safe social distance. That (social distancing) was really the idea that spurred NBA teams and NHL teams to open their arenas. Just being able to provide our community with a safe place to vote was important to us.
One of the pillars of the Cavs and Monsters organization is Civic Leadership. We are encouraged all the time to find opportunities to make an impact where we can and this was one that made a lot of sense considering the timing and everything that’s going on.
Voting is just one tool in a toolbox of things that we can do. But it was the immediate opportunity in front of us.
ES: Do you think it will prove beneficial to have it at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse? And do you think it will continue to happen like that for a few years?
BA: Obviously, the circumstances around this are pretty unique with COVID-19. I would definitely be speaking out of turn if I was saying I knew. I think it’s going to be super helpful this year. We’ve worked closely with the Secretary of State, the Cuyahoga County Board of Election, and a few local partners including Cleveland Votes which is a non partisan voting advocacy group here in Cleveland. Between the Secretary of State, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and some of our local partners we were able to get approval for this whole process. It’s just providing so much space for people to actually congregate and feel safe when they are voting. We have the infrastructure here. We put on events for over 20,000 people. We think we’ll be able to have a pretty successful effort here around election day given the space and expertise we have in the building.
ES: Do you know how the logistics of parking and buses will work on Election Day?
BA: I probably can’t speak to a whole lot of that. The one thing I can say is that we will work to provide as much information as possible from our RocketMortgageFieldHouse.com/vote website which is the hub for all things that people need to understand about this effort. We will be adding tools and resources for people to that website over the next two months before the election.
The other thing that was attractive about the FieldHouse was it’s central location to downtown for your RTA stops and just the accessibility that we can provide just being in the location that we are at.
The last thing I want to make sure everyone is aware of is we have folks from our staff who will be serving as poll workers and we are trying to rally others to do the same. We just passed National Poll Worker recruitment day and filmed a little video that we were able to put on our social media accounts showing off a handful of individuals who are going to be poll workers on election day. That’s obviously a really important thing right now.
ES: What are some other things the Monsters are trying to do?
BA: Beyond voting, we have been working with our Diversity and Inclusion team that serves both the Cavs, Monsters, and Charge. We’ve been having conversations with anyone from our Youth Hockey Partners to our Civic Leaders. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally just to identity our values moving forward.
I can’t give you full details yet. Just know we are working on programs that can help make hockey more accessible to more people. We’ve, dating back to February of last year when we held our first Black Heritage game, really had a focus on diversity within hockey and now we are trying to identify those partners we can work with to help make that a reality.
The other thing is we’ve donated $30,000 over the course of this pandemic to organizations that help a variety of folks in Cleveland. So, a lot of that was pandemic related. With our foundation, we have the ability to direct our funds into areas where we think we can help.
The biggest thing for us is you see some teams starting to roll out their plans for the next few years, etc but really for us we wanted to make sure we are approaching this from a relationship standpoint so that we have good partners in the community and experts in some of these spaces that can help us make the change that we want to.
With the Monsters you will probably see a continued effort on making hockey a more inclusive sport. Providing added exposure or opportunities to be exposed to the game for new communities, and I really do think the youth hockey space is one we will focus on here.
The other thing that I would just say is that we’ve been working consistently since the middle of last season with our diversity and inclusion team and members of the Monsters front office just to gather the youth hockey community and talk through what issues they are facing around exposing the game to new people or just generally how can we help. We are looking to continue those conversations with Youth Hockey organizations. Obviously our 14 Learn to Play partners that we already have a great relationship with but just finding more opportunities to connect and then problem solve as a group here. It’s going to be really important.
ES: What are you hoping comes from all of this, for the sport and the city?
BA: For the sport, one thing we’ve talked about as the Monsters organizations specifically we think there is a big opportunity in hockey to make some positive change. I don’t think I’m breaking any news here when I say it’s not the most racially diverse sport. We want to be able to make our sport look a bit more like the community that we live in. Whether that’s through our fans or youth hockey participation we feel an obligation to reflect that diversity of our community within the sport of hockey in Cleveland. That’s obviously an effort that’s bigger than just the Monsters but that’s something that will be a great long term outcome of all this.
And then, I think just as the Cavaliers organization, which the Monsters are an integral part, just being civic leaders. You see now, more and more folks are looking to their sports teams or athletes for leadership. The Alliance is a great step and obviously anytime you combine three organizations with as much of an impact on Cleveland as the Indians, Browns, and Cavs there is a lot that can be done with those collective minds. I think we are still very much in the process of learning, educating ourselves, and identifying next steps but focusing on little things along the way like this voting effort. We’ve had some great conversations internally with law enforcement and a few people in education. Right now we are learning from the experts. Hopefully we will be able to share a little bit more about the Monsters initiatives in the near future.
There are a lot of things that we already do that we are looking to accentuate or just take to another level that kind of already are impactful in this space. One would be our hockey assists program that we have in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and that’s fostering conversations between our players and staff and youth, usually it’s 7th graders in our CMSD schools. We will go into the schools to talk about hardships, overcoming adversity, and leadership. There’s more information like that on our website. That’s one that I expect will look different this year because of COVID and virtual learning. That’s a program we really believe in and are proud of.
A lot of our grow the game initiatives are inherently about some of the things I was just talking about expanding exposure and the ability to get kids into the game at a free or low entry point and keep them in the game hopefully. We were already doing things. So a lot of the work will be raising the level of what we are already working on.
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Also of note the Cleveland Cavaliers organization will be holding a voter registration drive on September 22nd, 2020. Keep an eye on RocketMortgageFieldHouse.com/vote for more information on voter registration and other voting related efforts.