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Deep Blue Sea: Hockey’s racism problem is far from isolated

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Devante Smith-Pelly addressed the racism he faced in Chicago.

San Jose Sharks v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If there was any doubt that racism is alive and well in the NHL, this Hockey is for Everyone Month hasn’t seemed to slow down the racist vitriol thrown at the few black players in the league.

Four Chicago Blackhawks fans were ejected from Saturday night’s game after shouting a racially charged chant at Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals. Smith-Pelly, originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2010 entry draft, is one of only 30 active black NHL players.

While he sat in the penalty box for fighting Connor Murphy, Blackhawks fans began chanting “Basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly. He addressed the choice of that word with the media yesterday morning.

“It’s pretty obvious what that means. It’s not really a secret.”

What they meant, of course, was that as a black athlete, Smith-Pelly should have stuck to a sport with few white people, instead of the massively white sport that is hockey. But that’s a bit harder to chant.

“Whether it’s that word or any other word, I got the idea. And I’m sure they got the idea, too. Just one word, and that’s really all it takes.”

After the 25-year-old forward told the off-ice official next to him in the penalty box what was being said, the official notified security at United Center and the fans were removed. But the damage was done.

The Blackhawks, Capitals, the NHL, and Smith-Pelly all addressed the incident yesterday. J.T. Brown and Wayne Simmonds also voiced their feelings on what happened to Smith-Pelly.

Brown and Simmonds have also dealt with racism from fans. When Brown protested the national anthem while with the Tampa Bay Lightning this fall, he received death threats. In 2011, a fan threw a banana at Simmonds during a shootout attempt. He was also subject to “Monkey, monkey” chants while playing in the Czech Republic in 2012. Both of these players have tried to lead the conversation on racism in the NHL, yet neither player was named as their team’s Hockey is for Everyone ambassador earlier this month.

While it’s great that Gary Bettman called this out as being an act of racism, he failed to mention the Hockey is for Everyone initiative that the league is in the middle of and he described this as an isolated incident. If it’s a one-time rarity, why is it that only a week ago, former first round pick, current nobody, Colten Teubert used a racial slur against PK Subban to former WJC teammate Brendan Gallagher?

Pretending this incident is outside of the realm of “normal hockey” allows the league to move on without addressing its issues.

But hey, Hockey is for Everyone!

Read more about the incident below. First, here’s Sharks news and notes:

And around the league: