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Givani Smith And The Lonely Fight Against Racism In Hockey

Image Credit: Getty Images

In the purest form, sports would simply be about competing.

In the purest form, sports would simply be about competing. But we all know that this is solely a theoretical existence, particularly in the era of Trump and most definitely when it comes to certain sports such as soccer and hockey.

We’ve seen numerous examples of racism plaguing the latter at every level, and earlier in the week we were subjected to it once again.

In Game 6 of the western conference final in the Ontario Hockey League, Givani Smith of the Kitchener Rangers was seen waving the middle finger in the direction of the bench of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Of course that video went viral and Smith was punished with a two game suspension for his action, relegated to the press box during his team’s game 7 double overtime, season ending loss to the Soos. But the aftermath of that “gesture” didn’t end there as racists released their venom on Smith, who is Black, including a Facebook post with the caption “Hockey Ni**er.” He also received a death threat, one serious enough to warrant a security escort for him and the team during game 7.

Josh Brown on Twitter

Racism at the rink: Kitchener’s Givani Smith deals with slurs and physical threats as Rangers get police escort to Game 7. https://t.co/n30QM2Bfcr #ohl

“There were threats, physical threats after Game 6,” said Mike McKenzie, GM of the Rangers. “Before we went up to the Soo there were racial things in his inbox on social media. It was pretty disgusting to see some of the stuff that he had to deal with.”

That last sentence is a manifestation of the ignorance players of color in sports such as soccer and hockey face, and while it’s disgusting to watch and experience, it’s almost expected that it will occur at some point for these players. In this case, we learned after the incident that Smith was subjected to racism during and before game 6, including during the regular season.

According to Josh Brown of TheRecord.com, “What they didn’t see were the racial slurs, threats and abuse that the Kitchener Rangers winger, who is black, endured before and after the incident.”

Ah, now we have some more context on the battle Smith was facing before he laced up his skates and stepped onto the ice, something reinforced by the actions taken by OHL commissioner David Branch, who had the safety of Smith and the Rangers in mind before game 7.

“We took the step to provide security over and above what we would normally do for a game,” said Branch. “We wanted to make sure Givani was comfortable and certainly hopefully free from any challenge or issue.”

(Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Yet, thanks to Brown of The Record, we learned that Smith had to endure racist taunts and actions from the fans during the regular season, including an incident where, according to GM McKenzie, a fan tried to approach Smith in the team’s locker room.

“We had an incident during the regular season where a fan somehow got access to our tunnel,” said McKenzie in that story on The Record. “It was a game where he (Smith) had been sent to the room early because he had a misconduct. The fan poked his head in and yelled a racial slur down the hall. I’m not going to repeat it but it wasn’t good.”

We all know the type of vitriol it was and, as stated earlier, we expect it to occur. Not accept, but expect, especially when a large, physical Black player like Smith is on the ice. We’ve seen it happen in the NHL with players like P.K. Subban and Devante Smith-Pelly, where racist fans take advantage of social media and time spent in the penalty box, respectively, to unleash their ignorant, cowardly venom. And it’s not the first time it’s happened to either player, best believe that.

Sunaya Sapurji on Twitter

This was published in the Star in 2001. In 2003 I wrote one with the headline: “Racism rampant in OHL” Just 2 of many written over the years. So if you’re *shocked* by what happened to Givani Smith you need to pay attention because this shit has been going on for decades.

“It’s heartbreaking to be honest,” continued McKenzie. “He shouldn’t have to endure it. He did a good job of turning the other way. I think the unfortunate part and it pains me to say this is that he’s probably used to it by now. He’s probably heard things before, which is brutal.”

According to The Color of Hockey, the League hasn’t issued a statement as of yet detailing any new punishments surrounding the incident other than Smith’s suspension for game 7, but no matter their findings or subsequent decision, the damage has been done against another Black hockey player.

Young players like Givani Smith, a second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings and the younger brother of Dallas Stars center Gemel Smith, might not always make the right decision when reacting to situations like these. But when the incidents continue to accumulate over a period of time, the anger seethes until it reaches a boiling point and explodes, many times in the form of improper, yet understandable, acts of expression.

But the reaction is minuscule when compared to the abuse, anger, embarrassment and hurt Black athletes have to endure when facing racism in sports. Many times these Black athletes suffer alone as there aren’t many who look like them on their team, and while there are good people who sympathize and feel some of the hurt experienced by players like Smith, there aren’t many who can truly empathize with players of color, who oftentimes have to internalize their hurt and fight the battle against racism by being instructed to simply “shut up and play.”

Yet it is this silent battle, one which all athletes of color will face at some point in their lives, that none should have to face alone.

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