“Out the racists!”
“Name the opposing team!”
“Don’t let them hide!”
A lot of folks wanted names after I wrote about a black player on a Maryland youth hockey team who had been subjected to racist taunts on the ice. Kids on a Pennsylvania team had called 13-year-old Divyne Apollon II the n-word, making monkey sounds at him and telling him to go play basketball. The whole thing ended with a brawl, and Divyne suspended for the rest of the tournament.
Readers were furious. I get it. Unmasking haters is a way to stop racism — or at least shame those who engage in it.
I did try to reach the offending team’s coaches before the column was published. But they had only a few hours to respond, and I wasn’t sure that they had received my messages.
So I wrote about the inspiring response that Divyne’s team, the Metro Maple Leafs, had after the incident, and that he and his father had been dealing with this awful behavior for a long time.
But I kept trying to reach the opposing team, and this week the coach for the Old York Raiders, a group from suburban Philadelphia, got back to me.
Justin Adamski verified that one of his players was also suspended after the brawl, but he didn’t take me up on a request to discuss the situation.
“We did speak to the team about the accusations,” he wrote in an email. “The Raiders organization nor its Coaching staff does not participate in, support or condone intolerance or unsportsmanlike actions in any forms.”
And that was it.
But hold off on the torches, folks. And bottle up the sanctimony.
Because racism doesn’t begin and end with the Raiders.
This ugliness happens everywhere. Some examples?
● Divyne’s own team, the Maple Leafs, harassed an Asian American team player on an opposing team last season, before Divyne joined them, according to the parent of the targeted player. The family didn’t make a formal complaint, but the boy always dreaded games against the Maple Leafs.
● On Sunday, a player on an all-white team on Maryland’s Eastern Shore told one of the Asian American players on my son’s team to “Go back to China.” Nevermind that the kid’s not from China, but the boy didn’t tell his mom about it until days later. The other kids, including my own, didn’t report this to the grown-ups at the game; they simply went back to playing and outscored their opponents.
● That same Asian American kid was harassed by some black players on the other, predominantly black, team that he plays with.
● One of the players on my son’s diverse D.C. team got in trouble last year for telling one of his Hindu teammates that President Trump was going to “deport all Muslims like him.”
● Just a couple weeks ago, our coaches challenged a team for yelling, “Go play football!” at one of our black players, who happens to be the team captain. When challenged, the other team insisted it wasn’t racist — it was a comment on the boy’s rough play. Trust me, my pink-cheeked son is a rougher player.
● And two years ago, the racist threats from an all-white Maryland team toward our black players resulted in sanctions from the hockey association for the player and the coach.
That, like the national attention that Divyne’s situation is getting, is rare.
Because truth is, a lot of kids of color are taught to move forward, to score and ignore.
And the hockey world knows that.
“Some of these kids turn the other cheek and move on because it’s what they do,” said David Fischer, senior director for communications for USA Hockey.
At the highest levels of American hockey, they know there’s a problem. Like the country, hockey is becoming more diverse.
“You go see a team in California and they look nothing like a team in Minnesota,” Fischer said.
It was back in the early 1990s that the association created a zero-tolerance policy for racist behavior.
But how often is it invoked? Infrequently, Fischer said. “You get one or two or three or five incidents” every year, he said. He called that good news, though it probably means the vast majority of the incidents aren’t being reported.
Fischer acknowledges the heckling that’s part of all sports (my sons love calling the Montgomery Blue Devils the “blue cheese”) is entirely different from the racist taunts that Divyne faced.
And those actions should lead to serious sanctions for teams and leagues.
To be fair, a youth hockey game is loud and frenetic, and words can get lost. Dangerous words.
“And if neither of us heard it, we cannot issue penalties,” said referee Christopher Dietz, president of the Southeastern Hockey Officials Association.
But the refs aren’t the only ones on the ice who have ears.
A lot of folks felt good about the response by Divyne’s team. The anti-racism stickers team mom Tammi Lynch made in response to the incident are on fire, being reprinted by the thousands.
The hockey association and leagues should investigate the Old York Raiders incident and sanction the players involved. And the coaches should use this as a teaching moment for their 13-year-olds.
The folks at Tri-City Hockey in Laurel, Md., are planning an educational series and a written affirmation of the league’s zero-tolerance policy. Good for them.
Because this isn’t a problem limited to one team or one league or one rink or one tournament. The racism is all around us. And when adults hear something, they’ve got to say something. And do something.
No matter how loud the thwack of the pucks or the crack of the sticks, someone always hears. And it can’t always be the victims.