A week after four Chicago Blackhawks fans were ejected from United Center after yelling racist taunts at Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, some good has resulted from the incident.
Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Rosenbloom received an email Monday that suggested Blackhawks fans donate to a charity of Smith-Pelly’s choosing as a sort of civic apology. The author of the email, John Simpson, even offered to put up the first $10,000. After taking this idea to the Capitals, Rosenbloom published a story Tuesday that pointed Tribune readers to Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the cause Smith-Pelly picked. Fort Dupont Director Ty Newberry said Friday that the rink has received $23,000 from 353 donors.
“We are overwhelmed with the support from the hockey community, the people of Chicago, Blackhawks fans and others across the country,” Newberry said in an email. “We are incredibly grateful that Devante Smith-Pelly chose us as his charity; though, we would have preferred that this incident never occurred to begin with. It is great to know that the world is filled with so many more good people than it is bad.”
Simpson isn’t much of a hockey fan, but he hated that the actions of four fans at United Center reflected poorly on Chicago. He initially considered purchasing 100 Smith-Pelly jerseys to wear the next time the Capitals came to town. But then he realized that wouldn’t be until next season, so he settled on donating to a charity of Smith-Pelly’s choice as a show that the city wouldn’t tolerate racism. Simpson said he cared about the number of people who participated more than the amount of money raised. One man from Wisconsin called him and said he could only afford to donate $5. Simpson told him any amount would be welcomed.
“One of the important reasons for sports is that kids see their heroes and say, ‘That could be me,’ or ‘People like me can achieve big things,’” Simpson told The Post. “That applies whether they become a sports hero, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or anything else.
“Sport inspires us to aspire to be our best selves. I don’t want children hearing about this incident and saying ‘Why should I even try a sport like hockey if people are just going to hurl insults at me?’ So, instead, if we can use this to raise a little money to show children, who may not have a lot of advantages, that this type of behavior is so unacceptable and it gets people to take action and raises money for a good cause, then maybe some good can come out of this.”
Fort Dupont is a not-for-profit charity, and the Capitals have a longstanding relationship with the rink, annually supporting programing and coordinating service projects there. It’s the only full-size indoor ice arena in the District, and it’s home to the Cannons, the oldest minority youth hockey program in North America. That program is also involved with the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative, a campaign that’s especially emphasized in February. Earlier this month, Capitals players Madison Bowey, Brooks Orpik and Smith-Pelly hosted the Cannons at the team’s practice facility.
As part of the Capitals’ Hockey is For Everyone Month Black History in Hockey theme night, Fort Dupont coaches John Connor, Ralph Featherstone, Neal Henderson, Hank Lee and Robert Primus will participate in a ceremonial puck drop prior to the Capitals Feb. 24 game versus the Buffalo Sabres.
During the Capitals-Blackhawks game in Chicago last Saturday, Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box when four fans yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball,” implying that Smith-Pelly didn’t belong in the majority-white sport. Smith-Pelly notified the off-ice official sitting in the penalty box with him, and the fans were ejected. Two days later, the Blackhawks announced that the four would be banned from future games at United Center.
“We’re at a time now where we can’t brush it under the rug,” Smith-Pelly said Sunday. “You’ve got to start calling people out and making sure people see other people’s true colors. That’s why I’m trying to get the conversation started.”
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