Smith-Pelly is targeted by chants of “basketball” and he wasn’t having it.
On Saturday night in Chicago, where the Washington Capitals were taking on the Blackhawks, forward Devante Smith-Pelly was sent to the penalty box in the third period when four fans decided to show their true colors for the world to see.
Taking aim at Smith-Pelly, who is Black, these fans began to chant “Basketball, basketball, basketball! through the glass. After briefly ignoring them, Devante finally had enough and stepped to the glass to address them.
The Blackhawks reacted swiftly after the incident, removing the fans and issuing the following statement:
We were made aware of an incident at tonights game involving a small group of attendees who made harmful comments directed at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly, said the team in a statement. The fans were immediately removed and we apologize to Smith-Pelly and the Washington Capitals organization. We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone who attends out games and these actions will never be tolerated.
It’s another example of the racism which plagues hockey, a sport which has approximately 30 Black players competing in the NHL. And it isn’t just at the professional level, as Black athletes have had to deal with this issue from the minute they decide to step on the ice. Sometimes it’s blatant and other times it’s more subtle. For instance, as Evan Moore noted in this piece last year, NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury called Subban a clown for dancing during the pregame warmups, yet Milbury must have forgotten that he had charged a fan in the stands while he was a player, or conveniently forgot to critique NBC Sports colleague Jeremy Roenick, who many times “danced after scoring goals and after big victories.”
Regardless of the case, Black hockey players are still left to deal with the emotional toll and embarrassment of the situation and are then involuntarily thrust into the undesirable position of having to answer the resulting questions which arise after these incidents.
In Smith-Pelly’s case, at least the support was immediate and the reaction was swift, with both his team, the Blackhawks and the NHL stepping up against the ignorance fans witnessed on Saturday night.
On Monday, the Blackhawks issued their own statement stating they had banned the fans from the arena.
It’s a shame that a sport with such global appeal is marred by racism. Yet like soccer, the sport is continually plagued by fans who try to belittle, demean and insult through racist taunts and actions, such as throwing bananas and showing up in blackface, leaving the rest of us in a position where we have to constantly expect it, experience it and deal with it. But as long as Black hockey players stand up for themselves, fight for equal rights and receive the support they rightfully deserve from their teammates, coaches, teams and leagues, these ignorant few will always be dealt with quickly.