HC Kremenchuk player Andrei Deniskin has been suspended 13 games by the Ukrainian Hockey League. This “punishment” comes in response to Deniskin making an overtly racist gesture at HC Donbass defensemen Jalen Smereck, an African-American player. It was previously reported the punishment would be 3 games plus an additional 10 games. Deniskin could avoid by paying a small fine. However, news broke that there had been a miscommunication in the reporting of the suspension.
To say this is a disappointing response to Andrei Deniskin’s disgusting acts would be an understatement. It is an absolute embarrassment to sports, and to hockey in particular.While the suspension is a hell of a lot better than previously reported, it still isn’t enough. UHL General Manager Eugene Kolychev talked a big game on Twitter in the days leading up to this announcement. “Being General Manager of UHLUA I declare that there is no place for racism in Ukrainian professional hockey” Kolychev posted on his Twitter account Monday. Given the substandard discipline meted out, I would say that statement is about as sincere as me promising my wife I’ll start working out.
According to Kolychev, the ruling on punishment for Deniskin did not come from the league. The ruling actually came from the Disciplinary Committee of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine, which apparently works in conjunction with the IIHF. I can only assume that Kolychev tweeted this in response to the absolute roasting he has been receiving on twitter.
You can read the official release here (it is in cyrilic, but if it’s being displayed on Chrome it gives an option to translate). The release is really quite infuriating. It states Deniskin’s gesture came “under influence of emotional tension” as a result of conflict. The release further states that the gesture was “in response to verbal provocations by the player of the Donbass team”. Essentially, they are blaming Smereck for Deniskin’s actions. That is absolutely stunning.
In an earlier article, I wrote that this was hockey’s chance to send a message. Sadly, it is not the right message. The pathetic suspension and the wording from the ruling states that racism in hockey is here to stay. Calls for a punishment matching the offense were soundly ignored, and the reason is written out for all to read.
Soul Of The Sport
I have loved hockey my whole life. It has become a part of my identity. But in light of this, for the first time in my life, I am questioning that part of me. Do I really want to be associated with a sport so unaccepting of differences as this? I truly believe there is no sport more beautiful than hockey. I want the world to see what I see, to share the passion I have. But incidents like this show me that it is nothing more than a pipe dream. Hockey is a closed off sport, one that readily accepts the hate of those that are not wealthy white males as part of its culture. Judging by this incident, that is not going away any time soon.