The Chicago Blackhawks snapped an eight-game losing skid by crushing the Washington Capitals 7-1, but let's just say that is not what caught the attention on Saturday night during this contest. Their victory was overshadowed by several Blackhawks fans racially taunting Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly while he was in the penalty box serving a five-minute fighting major.
According to Washington Post reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan, fans who sat near the penalty box shouted “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, before having a heated exchange with the Caps forward, who was understandably upset.
The good news is that the four fans were identified and ejected from the game.
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz spoke out for his player during his post-game scrum, stating that the fans in question were ignorant and that, of course, this could not be taking place in this game, especially in 2018.
“There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey, or our country, for racism. I think it’s disgusting,” Trotz told reporters. “There’s no place for it. Athletes in this country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”
The Blackhawks subsequently issued an apology to Smith-Pelly and the Capitals following the unacceptable incident.
Smith-Pelly is one of many players to have spoken out on the increasingly intertwining relationship between professional sports and race relations in the United States. Just at the start of this season, when controversy surrounded National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem and American president Donald Trump, DSP offered a moving interview with the Washington Post on the difficulties visible minorities face in hockey as opposed to other sports.
“You look in the [locker] room, it’s only me,” Smith-Pelly told Khurshudyan back in October 2017. “You look at all the teams, it’s not people that look like me. That’s just the way it is right now.”
The Capitals winger held a similar speech, just a month ago, when he spoke with the Toronto Star.
“There’s a little bit of a lonely feeling,” said DSP. “I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together … I can go to Joel (Ward) and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America.
“I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.”
Other players in the National Hockey League, notably Nashville Predators' P.K. Subban and Anaheim Ducks' J.T. Brown, has also spoken out on racism in the league. At the start of the season, Brown, who was with the Tampa Bay Lightning then, became the first player to protest the national anthem amongst the NFL controversy, when he raised his right fist before the team's first road game of the season.
"I wanted to do something to show my support. There's some issues that we have to talk about," Brown had said at the time. "I know there's going to be negative backlash, but in my heart I know I did what was right."
Let's be kind to one another. This is 2018 now - racism is simply unacceptable.