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Racism in Hockey: Toronto Maple Leafs Response

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Disclaimer: I am a white male who in no way intends to speak for the BIPOC community; my only aim is to stand with them.

The Incidents

On January 12th, in a game against the Tuscon Roadrunners, San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik directed a blatantly racist gesture towards Roadrunners Boko Imama. This resulted in a 30-game suspension handed down by the American Hockey League and his release from the team. The second incident happened on January 22nd, in a game between the South Carolina Stingrays and the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL, when Icemen defencemen Jacob Panetta made a racist gesture towards Stingrays defencemen Jordan Subban. Subban, heading off the ice, turned around and immediately went after Panetta. This incident was perhaps the more telling of the two; Panetta’s teammates did not come to his defence; in the video of the incident, you can see his teammates waving off help from the bench. This incident resulted in a 38-game suspension handed down by the ECHL.

The Reaction Around the Hockey World

One would think that the reaction by the hockey world would be united, yes? No. In fact, the response around the hockey world in defence of these actions is quite shocking and appalling. Instead of people standing together against racism in 2022, you find many people explaining, defending, and dismissing these racist incidents, specifically, when you look at the Panetta incident in particular. From statements released by the team in question to the apology video Panetta made himself brushing it off as a “tough guy pose”, to the puff pieces written by old hockey men who are willing to pardon a white man when they cannot effectively do that.

As a white man myself, our only job is to support, listen and stand together with the BIPOC community in hockey to make a safe, more inclusive space. We as people cannot decide what is and is not racist when we are not part of the marginalized group that can experience racism. I’ve seen so many “that was not his intent,” “what happened to due process?” and “you’re misinterpreting the gesture” tweets and lines in articles that need to stop. The fact of the matter is intent in cases of racism does not matter. Racism is racism. Period. Full stop. Stop defending, stop explaining; people that are not in the BIPOC community do not get to downplay, normalize and dismiss things of this nature. Our job is to sit, listen and support. Any other response to blatant racism should be condemned.

Toronto Maple Leafs Response

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most progressive forward-thinking teams in the NHL. This is even more evident by how they are allowed to address the media, or more eloquently put, the freedom in which they are given in how they address the media. Leafs captain John Tavares addressed the media regarding these incidents, crediting Wayne Simmonds and former Maple Leaf Mark Fraser who works in player development, equity, diversity, and inclusion with helping the Leafs understand diversity and hockey. It also speaks volumes that Simmonds said he feels the most comfortable in the Leaf locker room than any room around the NHL.

Conclusion

Every person that is involved with hockey at all levels needs to condemn any racist action that takes place. If this continues to go unpunished, the culture around the game of hockey will only continue to erode. Hockey cannot truly be for everyone if we, as a society continue to overlook this behaviour. Listen to those around you, respect everyone, and do not diminish the way another person, with different life experiences, feels.

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