Unfortunately, racism in hockey isn’t anything new.
We’ve witnessed many examples of racism in the sport. From racial epithets voiced by fans to confrontations on the ice, players of color have been subjected to merciless acts of ignorance in the sport they love.
We’ve had to read about it so many times. From Givani Smith of the Ontario Hockey League to Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals, Black players have had to endure the vitriol spewed from the stands. Sometimes they ignore it, sometimes they address it face to face with the cowardly abusers. Oftentimes they’re told to ignore it and focus on winning as that’s the best revenge. But it’s a painful experience. Oftentimes, as stated by Yussuf Khan in the article above on Givani Smith, it’s “a silent battle, one which all athletes of color will face at some point in their lives, that none should have to face alone.”
In the case of 13-year old Divyne Apollon II, he didn’t have to suffer alone.
Apollon plays hockey for Metro Maple Leafs, a team based in Odenton, which is a suburb of Maryland. He hadn’t experienced racism on the ice before, but his father warned him that it could surface at any time. Unfortunately for him and his family, that warning proved true when they traveled to participate in a tournament.
“I told him he would face this in a mostly white sport,” said his father Divyne Apollon. “I did the same thing for my daughters when they played tennis. I just told them: ‘People are going to say things to you. Just perform and win. Don’t worry about anybody else.’ ”
But he couldn’t just shut up and play, not after the taunts he was subjected to last weekend at a tournament in Pennsylvania.
“Get off the ice! Go play basketball!”
Monkey sounds and of course, the n-word.
Apollon tried to ignore it but it got to be too much, and the adults weren’t doing anything to stop it and so it escalated into a brawl.
But Apollon wasn’t alone as his teammates, who had had enough of the ignorant behavior, jumped in to stand up for their battered teammate.
After the brawl was contained, Apollon was suspended for the remainder of the tournament. That’s when he told the adults in charge what had happened, and his teammates quickly backed up his story.
“It happened in Hagerstown earlier in the season, too,” said Apollon. “The n-word. The basketball chants. We had a team chat and he explained the history of how it happened before.”
The adults were in shock, completely blinded by what they missed during the game.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” stated Tammi Lynch, one of the team moms. “To hear from him how pervasive it has been. How he’s just let it roll off his back. I think we had no idea.”
So Lynch and some other parents decided to do something about it.
At the next round of games, ones in which Apollon was suspended from playing in, Lynch and other parents created signs and badges with a hockey stick drawn through the word “racism”. It went viral through social media and more families, both Black and white, are taking up the charge to fight against the ignorance these children are being taught and being exposed to.
Predictably, Apollon and his father, while very appreciative of these efforts, weren’t shocked by what had transpired on the ice at the tournament.
“I’ve grown numb to it,” said his father.
“Yeah, I just learn not to get upset by it, like the monkey sounds. I try not to even hear them,” said Divyne.
But there comes a point where you can’t just be numb or ignore it. And that’s when it’s important to know that your teammates have your back and won’t let you suffer alone or in silence.