After racist taunts and death threats from hockey fans, Detroit Red Wings prospect Givani Smith, one of the few black hockey players in the NHL, needed a police escort to remain safe.
NY Times reported that black hockey players have experienced high levels of racial abuse from fans. “A lot of players of color go through this,” Smith’s agent, G. P. Daniele, said. “It’s almost par for the course. It’s unfortunate.”
The 20-year-old is one of only about a dozen black athletes of the 500 in the Ontario Hockey League, one of the 3 major junior leagues in Canada for those on the path to NHL careers.
The NHL, which is not known for its diversity, has approximately 700 hockey players, but only around 30 are black.
O.H.L. commissioner, David Branch, was so concerned at the level of threats toward Smith that he requested a police escort for him to a playoff game, even though it was only a 5 minute walk.
“I’ve lived in his shoes before,” said 43-year-old Kevin Weekes, a black former N.H.L. goaltender and now a lead analyst at NHL Network who played in the O.H.L. in the 1990s. “It’s uncomfortable. It’s confusing.”
“It’s heartbreaking to be honest. He shouldn’t have to endure it,” Red Wings general manager Mike McKenzie told the Waterloo Region Record. “[Smith] 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.”
McKenzie also noted that the racial abuse had been occurring throughout the season.
Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland supported Smith and called the racists’ behavior disgusting.
“Obviously, it’s disgusting that people do that to another human being,” Holland said. “We support Givani. He’s a tremendous young man. We think he’s a really good prospect for us. He had a tremendous playoff. It’s about what you do on the ice. He’s a committed athlete, and we’re thrilled to have him in our organization. We’ve talked to him since the incident and made sure he understands we’re there to support him.”
Smith was suspended from an Ontario Hockey League playoff game “for giving the middle finger to the opposing bench, but before and after that incident he was subjected to racial slurs and threats, according to his team,” ESPN reported. It seems strange that a player would be suspended for giving the middle finger in a sport that is known for vicious fights and brutal behavior.
The middle finger incident encouraged more racists to come out of the woodwork and take to social media to threaten Smith because he has black skin.
The Waterloo Region Record wrote, “One troglodyte reportedly sent a photo to Smith’s personal Facebook account with the caption reading ‘Hockey N***er and another sent a death threat.”
Hopefully the NHL and other hockey leagues will find a better way to deal with the common racist mentality of their fans.