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ECHL player suspended for rest of season after allegedly directing racist taunt at opponent

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The ECHL, a hockey minor league two levels below the NHL, announced Thursday that former Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta was suspended for the rest of the season after he allegedly targeted South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Jordan Subban with a racist taunt during a game Saturday night.

The Iceman announced Sunday that they were releasing Panetta, who initially was suspended indefinitely while the league completed an investigation. There are 38 games remaining in the season.

“Insensitive actions and gestures, regardless of intent, cannot be tolerated in our game,” ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin said in a news release Thursday. “We all need to learn and grow from this incident, and remain steadfast to further educating and advancing our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout our league.”

The incident occurred 23 seconds into overtime Saturday, when a South Carolina player collided with the Jacksonville goalie, leading to a fracas near the goal. According to a tweet by Subban, the brother of New Jersey Devils three-time all-star defenseman P.K. Subban, he tried to fight Panetta but Panetta didn’t engage and instead taunted him by making monkey gestures.

The two eventually did fight and were assessed major penalties and misconducts, ending their nights. The Icemen won, 1-0, in overtime. The team released Panetta the following day before the league investigation was completed.

“The platform that is the Jacksonville Icemen is one that is more than just about hockey to us as a group,” Icemen CEO Andy Kauffman said. “It is about using this platform to spread not only our love for hockey but our love for the community and for each other. Though the investigation and review is ongoing at the league level, the Jacksonville Icemen will be releasing the player involved effective immediately. ... On behalf of the entire Icemen organization, we apologize to any one who was offended and look forward to beginning the process of healing together as one.”

In a video posted to his Twitter feed Sunday night, Panetta apologized but said he was making a “tough guy, bodybuilder-like gesture” toward Subban.

“My actions towards Jordan were not because of race and were not intended as a racial gesture,” he added. “I see now from Jordan’s reaction that he and others certainly viewed it as a racial gesture and that my actions have caused a great deal of anger and upset to Jordan, his family and countless others. I want to express to everyone, and especially Jordan, that my actions were not racially motivated at all and I sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering and anger that my actions have caused to him, his family and everyone who was hurt by this.”

Earlier Sunday, the Stingrays said they were “disgusted and appalled” by the incident.

“Our organization stands in support of our friend and teammate, Jordan, as well as other players who continue to deal with racism and discrimination,” Stingrays President Rob Concannon said in a statement on Twitter. “This behavior has to stop and is unacceptable.”

P.K. Subban posted a fan video of the altercation on Twitter, which included audio of spectators jeering and cursing in the background. He tweeted: “They don’t call the east coast league the jungle because my brother and the other black players are the monkeys!”

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Malcolm Subban, Jordan’s other brother and a goalie for the Buffalo Sabres, added, “When does it end.”

“With everything that has gone on in the past couple years in the world I’ll say with all due respect to everyone who has an opinion, this isn’t a mistake,” P.K. Subban tweeted later. “We all know what’s ok and what’s not. Even your own teammates wanted to see you get your clock cleaned. This happens a lot and it never gets exposed in the lower leagues.”

The Stingrays are an affiliate of the Washington Capitals, who tweeted their support Sunday, as did the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate. The Icemen are an affiliate of the New York Rangers.