It’s February 17th, 2018. An exciting hockey game is going down between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The third period was winding down, and the home team was up 7-1. The game was full of physicality and energy especially when Capitals right-wing Devante Smith-Pelly got into a scuffle with Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy. They each got their respective penalties and skated into their team’s boxes. But, when Smith-Pelly took his seat, he wasn’t greeted pleasantly. A group of spectators sitting near the penalty box began yelling at him. The 25-year-old was visibly angry, even getting up and tapping his stick on the glass next to them. After the encounter, the four attendees were ejected from the game. A spokesperson from the Capitals confirmed to ESPN that the group was chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball”, referring to the stereotype that black people (like Smith-Pelly) are only talented in basketball, and not in hockey.
Barry Trotz, Washington’s head coach called the comments “disgusting”, and made it clear that the rest of the team supports Smith-Pelly at this time. Later on, the Blackhawks also released a statement condemning the actions of the group of spectators and reiterating the fact that they removed them from the arena. The next day, Smith-Pelly described the situation as “sad” and “disgusting.” The rest of the forward’s comments can be found here. On Sunday, league commissioner Gary Bettman spoke out against the fans’ remarks, calling them “unacceptable and reprehensible.” On Monday night, the Blackhawks announced that they had banned these individuals from all future home games.
He goes on to say that the night before in Minnesota, he got chirped by some other fans, but they didn’t go as far as to target his race. Smith-Pelly also says that he discussed the incident with his father afterward. “It’s happened in hockey before. It’s happened to people we personally know. We’ve had the conversation.” He said. “It’s just a few ignorant people being idiots, that’s it.”
This isn’t the first time it has happened to the winger, either; he was told to “go back to playing basketball” at his first rookie tournament in British Columbia. The biggest point that he touched on, however, was how ridiculous it was that this went down in 2018.
“It’s sad that in 2018 we’re still talking about the same thing, over and over… it’s sad that athletes like myself 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You’d think there’d be some sort of change… but we’re still working toward it… we’re going to keep working toward it.”
What does this mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, it is “Hockey Is For Everyone” month, after all. According to the NHL, this campaign “uses the game of hockey to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities.” But, does it really?
In the past, we’ve looked at the flaws in the NHL’s diversity initiatives regarding the LGBTQIA+ community in depth. Their support of the black/people of color community is probably even worse. February is recognized as Black History Month in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Netherlands. The NHL doesn’t bat an eye at this campaign. Additionally, there are less than 30 black players currently on National Hockey League rosters. How can an organization preach diversity when their actions don’t match their words? It’s something we’ve been trying to figure out for a while now.
So, dearest NHL… throw us a bone. Please. Only paying attention to racism in the rink when it happens doesn’t help anyone.
“…we’re at a time right now where you can’t brush it under the rug. You got to start calling people out and making sure people see other people’s true colors… I’m trying to get the conversation started and show whoever these people were their true colors.”
-Devante Smith-Pelly’s thoughts the day after the incident on February 17th, 2018
What did you think about this situation? What kind of action do you think the NHL can take? Let us know by tweeting us: @PuckItUpBlog.