William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles Chanel Keenan, hired by the Seattle Kraken as an intersectionality consultant.
Chanel Keenan, the Seattle Kraken’s intersectionality consultant, said announcing the Kraken’s selection of former Carolina Hurricanes forward Morgan Geekie in front of a TV camera during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 was one the coolest things she has ever done.
And the most stressful.
“It was live TV, I’m not equipped for that,” said Keenan, who was flanked by members of the Western Washington Female Hockey Association’s Washington Wild when she announced the choice. “I was so nervous.”
Keenan hasn’t been shy when it comes to advocating for people with disabilities, women and people of color in her part-time role with the Kraken, who have vowed to make diversity, equity and inclusion a key component of their culture.
The 22-year-old Dorchester, Massachusetts, native said she brings a unique perspective to Seattle, which will begin play this season as the 32nd team in the NHL. She’s a female diehard hockey fan of Cambodian heritage who negotiates life with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as Brittle Bone Disease, and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.
“Disability doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from,” she said. “I just kind of give my perspective as a physically disabled person who started as a fan of the sport but also understands the history and the culture and how the sport was built. I’m coming from it from a bunch of weird angles being a woman, not actually playing the sport, being a minority, all these different things that we kind of seem like the opposite audience of who [hockey] markets to now.”
From her Massachusetts home, Keenan said at least five committees put together by the Kraken will deal with everything from overall diversity to the game presentation at Seattle’s Climate Change Arena and impact people with disabilities.
The Kraken first learned about Keenan through a piece she wrote on Medium in August 2020 titled “I’m a Free Agent, Not Your Token Hire” that took the hockey community to task for a of lack of disability representation in and around the sport.
“I have a lot of life to live and who knows where I am heading,” she wrote. “But in my heart, I know I was meant to change the future of the sport that I love. In my humble opinion, I would be an invaluable asset to the National Hockey League, or anywhere that seeks to bring a positive experience for disabled fans.”
Becca Elliott, the Kraken’s director, digital & fan experience, reached out to Keenan through Twitter and inquired about her availability to work with the Kraken on their mobile app.
“That was estimated to take nine or 10 months for them to actually need me,” Keenan said. “I was going to help them regardless, but I wanted to do something in the now. And so I eventually got up the courage to ask [Elliott] — now that I have someone’s ear working with a new team coming up — I feel like they had a perfect opportunity to start thinking about accessibility and diversity right out the gate.”
Since then, Keenan has been vital in getting the Kraken to try to think beyond just making their games accessible for people with disabilities, Elliott said.
“Diversity, I think we often think about as gender diversity or racial diversity,” Elliott said. “But diversity in experience is a massive part of that and having a voice for the disability community has been absolutely invaluable for us. It’s very easy for a lot of us just to look at the law and make sure you’re that following that, but are you really thinking about your fans’ experience or level up on what that can be?
“She’s been here to hold us accountable and push us forward and ask pointed questions and connect us with people in her own community to make sure that we’re addressing these things.”
Keenan, who was adopted by a white Irish Catholic family, said she developed a passion for hockey from her three older brothers. She became a self-professed rink rat, tagging along with them to skates, practices and games.
“When I grew up, I found myself watching hockey more in late middle school, early high school and it just became a habit,” she said. “I’ve always liked team sports, and in hockey you have to rely on everyone showing up and doing their job. And that kind of camaraderie is how I wanted my life to operate — being important independently and being better together.”
Keenan decided the week before the expansion draft that she would fly to Seattle for the festivities and to meet colleagues she previously only knew via phone calls and Zoom.
The Kraken staff and fans greeted her warmly but gave her a piece of advice: Lose the Boston Bruins bumper sticker from the back of her wheelchair.
“I was getting blasted for it, basically, from the second I got off the plane,” she said. “We had a staff party after the draft, and I thought, ‘That would be a great time, I’ll show up, bring the other sticker, I’ll let one of them take it off and put the new (Kraken) one on.
They honestly, like, really enjoyed it a little too much, peeling the sticker off.”