5/6/18 – Should You Flip Off a Racist or Lick Someone in the Face?

If you ever needed more proof that hockey has work to do with race, I submit Exhibits A & B for the record.

A black man in the OHL has been suspended for flipping off a group of people making racial comments towards him with no corresponding suspensions or punishment of any kind given to the other parties.

A “known pest” white man has licked two people without so much as a penalty, fine, or suspension in the NHL.

Unequal punishment isn’t only an NHL phenomenon. It happens everywhere. Earlier this month a report was released studying punishment in schools.

“The analysis shows that students of color suffer harsher discipline for lesser offenses than their white peers and that racial bias is a driver of discipline disparities,” [Rep Bobby} Scott [D-Va.] said in a statement.

So naturally when Givani Smith, younger brother of Dallas Stars forward Gemel Smith, flipped the bird to the Soo Greyhounds bench strangely ironic hell broke loose against him.

The incident sparked a series of racially charged comments on social media. Some called the Toronto native a “coward” and a “douche bag” while others stooped lower.

One man sent a photo of Smith to his personal Facebook account with “Hockey N—–” in the caption.

He also received a death threat.

“There were threats, physical threats after Game 6,” said Rangers general manager Mike McKenzie.

“Before we went up to the Soo there were racial things in his inbox on social media. It was pretty disgusting to see some of the stuff that he had to deal with.”

Things got so bad that the Rangers needed a police escort from the Soo airport to their hotel and from the hotel to the Essar Centre for Game 7. Smith watched the affair from the press box with a security guard posted at the door.

All because he flipped someone off. Sure, civility is important. We don’t need to be flipping people off, but this is absurd. None of these reactions are ever justified, and they look even the more ridiculous when they come in response to a common mildly vulgar gesture.

The sad thing is that this is an unfortunately common situation that black hockey players are forced to confront. Gemel talked about his own experiences in the OHL with Sean Shapiro last year.

“I’ve been through that stuff, even when playing in the OHL. To me I just block it out, none of it really bothers me. I think of it like just words, that stuff doesn’t effect me.”

And,

“Definitely happened more when I was younger and in the OHL, I think it was a maturity thing. The fact that it happens at that age is a good thing, it teaches guys how to cope,” Smith said. “I had some really high-end players say some stuff to me, I’m not going to say any names, and to be honest I just laugh now. None of it really bothers me.”

The fact that at least one black player thinks it’s “a good thing” that they experience racism at an early age in hockey so they learn “how to cope” with it is a telling indictment of where hockey and society still are racially. No one should have to put up with this nonsense anywhere, and sure as hell not at work.

I work at an urban school where 97% of the population is Black or Hispanic. On my first day of school six years ago I was very aware that most people didn’t look like me. I’ve never been treated the way Givani Smith was treated in this one instance, and presumably others, in my entire time there. This isn’t just a race issue. It’s a white society issue and it isn’t ok.

This is why actively working towards inclusion is important. From Sean’s story:

“My first triple-A team when I first started taking hockey serious, my coach was black and there were four other black players on my team. It kind of helped us kind of get through at first,” Smith said. “I know stuff like that is going to come up as long as I live, and the best thing to is don’t break. You can bend, but don’t break.”

I still can’t get over how much the kids in my building flocked to Black Panther. Representation matters.

Remember all of the little girls running around dressed like Wonder Woman? Representation matters.

Hockey can’t show representation the way Black Panther or Wonder Woman did yet because there simply aren’t enough black NHL players to do it on that scale. That’s also why inclusion is important. Every single story like this that happens and spreads limits the potential audience for the sport. How can you expect any of the 42 million black people in the US to feel comfortable coming to an arena seating 17.000 almost exclusively white people when these things keep happening?

This is why Hockey Is For Everyone month is important. It’s easy for members of the majority to say “oh, of course everyone is welcome” because they don’t see or feel the impacts of how much racism is so easily thrown around.

The NHL needs to take a more active role in including everyone.

The NHLPA needs to take a more active role in protecting their members. No union worth anything should ever let a member treat another member like Givani Smith was treated in the OHL.

NHL teams need to take a more active role in the arena to make sure this behavior isn’t tolerated from fans.

It’s 2018 and this garbage keeps happening. Enough is enough. A white man licking people in the face has faced less consequences than a black man justifiably responding with a non-violent gesture to racists. I can’t.

 

 

2/13/18 – Is Hockey For Everyone in Dallas Yet?

Last year Hockey Is For Everyone Month was a big success across the NHL as a whole. In Dallas, not so much. The Stars more or less ignored it, and a vocal group of fans weren’t particularly happy about it. I put a poll together and wrote up a story for WFAA about the situation.

Dallas Stars President Jim Lites responded after WFAA reached out to the Stars prior to publishing the story. We got this response:

“We have run all of the league-sponsored PSAs on `Hockey is for Everyone.’ We have donated hundreds of hours to all of the initiatives, including sled hockey, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. If we dropped the ball, we apologize,” Lites said. “It’s been a hectic week. We have been focused on Dave (Strader) and his return and doing work for the cancer society in conjunction with that. We spent all today with Pevs and the American Heart Association. That’s not an excuse, but it is what it is. If we left somebody out, we really apologize.”

That response left a lot to be desired, particularly since they specifically mentioned the LGBT community and there is no easily identifiable evidence that the Stars or Dallas Stars Foundation has ever done any work for that community.

Even now if you go to the Foundation website you notice this on their grants page:

Community Engagement

The Foundation strives to support organization who embrace individuals of all backgrounds, regardless of race, disability or situation, who encourage and empower people to maximize their potential and lead quality lives.

….which sounds great until contrasted with the stated goals of the NHL’s larger Hockey Is For Everyone initiative….

We support any teammate, coach or fan who brings heart, energy and passion to the rink. We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Simply put, Hockey is for Everyone™

And that is kind of the problem, still. You can’t reasonably find any reference to anything remotely associated with the LGBT community or any activities in said community on the website. When Jim Lites says the Stars do work with them there is no readily available evidence to back that claim up. Given how little the Stars did on their designated night last year you are left to draw your own conclusions.

(And yes, the Foundation does do a lot of good work. This area, however, is severely lacking.)

This year the Stars have a chance to do better. Honestly it wouldn’t take much to do better than they did last year, but the club does seem to be doing more than showing a complete and utter lack of interest in the event.

The official Twitter account tweeted about the night three times by my count. All were on February 1st. The first was the official announcement:

The Stars host their Hockey Is For Everyone Month Night on February 16th when they play the St. Louis Blues which could be awkward for a number of reasons. I seem to remember St. Louis doing it up big either this year, last year, or both, though I can’t find evidence of it at the moment. The Stars share the night with the Carolina Hurricanes who absolutely crushed it last year.

The club also announced that Tyler Seguin was their team ambassador for the month.

The final tweet was the back of a goalie mask with a HIFE logo on it.

As for the night itself, the Stars released a press release listing a number of initiatives that do a somewhat better job of meeting the goals of the program. The only note from the press release that refers to the gay community is this:

Additionally, members of the team will tape their sticks with Pride-themed hockey tape during the warm-ups. These autographed sticks will be auctioned off online at auctions.nhl.com with proceeds benefiting You Can Play Project.  During the game, the Stars will run a public service announcement on the American Airlines Center video board of players Jamie Benn, Seguin and Jason Spezza in support of the efforts of the Hockey Is For Everyone campaign.

It still doesn’t reference the community by name or identify which players will use the tape, but it is a start. There is also no mention of any outreach to any groups associated with the community.

Dallas Voice reached out to Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, to discuss the Stars’ efforts:

McDonnell praised the Stars for increasing their efforts in the diversity initiative this year, but, he said, “I do wish they would have reached out to local LGBT organizations to make them a bigger part of them. Teams have done that in other cities, but not here. We tried to engage them but haven’t gotten much in return.”

[…]

But, McDonnell continued, the team definitely “upped the ante” on Pride-themed merchandise this year. “Last year, they had one Pride T-shirt,” he said, while this year’s shopping options include Pride hockey tape and several different t-shirt and hoodie selections for both men and women.

The Dallas Stars organization also came out very strongly and loudly against efforts during last year’s Texas Legislature to pass a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people.

One minor quibble with his statement: let’s be careful giving the Stars too much credit for coming out against the bathroom bill. They were awarded the NHL Draft in late July, and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made this comment:

“It’s an important issue (the bathroom bill) for the league,” Daly said, “and we’re a very inclusive league, and we’re proud we’re an inclusive league. I think the legislation is important … From what I understand from the mayor is it’s not going to be a problem, so we don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

 On August 9th Jim Lites released a statement on behalf of the Stars denouncing the legislation after rumors circulated that the NHL could pull the draft if the law goes into place. They will always be the first one to come out against it here, but don’t forget the context.
It seems like this will be a better night than the 2017 version, but there are still obvious steps it can take to continue to be better. They can do more for minority fans. They can reach out to LGBT groups, and have them be actively involved in the night. And, most importantly, they can continue to listen to feedback.
Last year a lot of people were upset. Their voices were heard. It goes to further show that if you speak up respectfully and honestly you can make a difference. It appears that the vocal group of fans who felt like the Stars did a poor job last year have been heard. If they want to continue to see this process evolve they need to continue to speak up.
Now we wait to see what February 16th looks like at the American Airlines Center.