Once again, racism in hockey reared it’s ugly head. In Ukrainian Hockey League play Sunday, literal no-one Andrei Deniskin made a racist gesture (that you can watch here if you really want to) towards former Arizona Coyotes draft pick Jalen Smereck. Deniskin, who plays for HC Kemenchuk, was promptly ejected. Smereck, who plays for Donbass Donetsk, has since received an outpouring of support from the hockey community. Deniskin reportedly released an apology on Instagram, but it was deleted.
A Problem That Won’t Go Away
This seems to be a problem that won’t go away in sports, but especially in hockey. Just last year, there was an incident in the AHL involving Brandon Manning hurling a racial slur at then-Ontario Reign forward Boko Imama. The AHL issued a light 5-game suspension as a result.
The year before, it came to light that former NHL coach Bill Peters routinely hurled racist remarks at former prospect Akim Aliu while both were with AHL’s Rockford, part of the Blackhawks organization. Though the incident occurred in 2009-2010, it was swept under the rug until Aliu finally felt comfortable enough to shed light on the event in 2019. To their credit, the Calgary Flames fired Peters. However, he was able to find work again in Russia’s morally questionable top pro league, the KHL. Peters is the head coach of Avtomoblist Yekaterinburg currently.
A Need to End
Sadly, the above are just some examples of racism showing itself in hockey. In a sport that is predominantly played by upper-class white folks, those of a different background are frequently subject to harassment and abuse. And this has to stop. The NHL likes to showcase their slogan “Hockey is for Everyone”, but there is so much showing this is not the case. Incidents like this will keep happening unless racism is removed from the game entirely.
Change starts with showing that racism in hockey will not be tolerated. And I don’t just mean by putting it on a banner in an arena, but by real, tangible action. Though the IIHF has condemned Deniskin’s actions, a harsh punishment will show that they mean business. Instead of not employing players like Aliu (who received almost zero shots at the NHL despite a high skill-level), ban Deniskin. Make it hard for him to make a living playing this game. Send a message that racism will not be tolerated. Don’t just say it! Someone like Brandon Manning gets suspended for 5 games for hurling a racist slur at a fellow player? 5 games?? How can we say hockey is for everyone, then turn around and show that we are not willing to truly punish the people that do not make it for everyone.
It is baffling to me that we are here in 2021 and things like this happen. It just shows how far behind hockey is. Deniskin made that gesture at Smereck because he felt comfortable doing it. Because hockey culture dictates that a racist action like that will be met with a slap on the wrist at most. Like, a 5 game suspension? Or kicked off a team just to find another one? This is hockey’s chance. Send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated. Because until that message is sent, hockey will not be for everyone.
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