If you hadn’t noticed by now, society is a pretty terrible place. For many of us, hockey can be a getaway, and for the very few of us, hockey is the getaway, but it doesn’t get you away from anything.
Josh Brown of the Waterloo Region Record penned an article Saturday that acts as a resounding example of this. Red Wings prospect Givani Smith, and his coaches opened up about the racism that the 20-year-old winger has endured not only in wake of his suspension, but on a consistent basis.
Smith was dealt a two-game suspension for giving the opposing team’s bench the middle finger — it was an immature move, but let’s be real, we’ve all flipped the bird once or twice when we were fired up over something. I’m not advocating for that kind of behavior, but he’s 20. The real problem is what came after the former second-round pick decided to use the gesture...
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.”
Okay, so I’m not going to go on a long-winded rant about why racism is bad. If you can’t see why acts of bigotry, against any race, religion, ethnicity, what-have-you, is completely reprehensible, then just turn around and read something else. I have no time for you, and neither does society.
This whole incident is a deafening reminder of how society has impact in everything — including sports. I’ll break it down for you.
Hockey is the least diverse of the major sports in North America. Doesn’t take a genius to realize that. Why is that? Well, it mostly breaks down to privilege, in my opinion. Not everyone has the resources to play hockey at a young age — this includes inner-city kids, whether they’re black, latino, asian, white, etc. We overlook how expensive hockey is for parents — equipment, travel expenses, rink time, and a long list of other expenses. I grew up very fortunate; my family wasn’t wealthy — we lived in a tiny house, but my family was always supportive of what I wanted to do. As a troubled punk rock rat, I wanted to play guitar. My mom did what she had to do to make that happen... But for many kids, they never get their chance to do what they want because it’s just out of the question, financially speaking.
When you add in the underlying gatekeeping racism making it more-troublesome for minority players than they may feel it worth, you compound the diversity issue even further.
I mean, let’s talk about how many black players there are in the NHL — do you know the number off the top of your head? Probably not.. Here’s the list. Seems like quite a few when you look at it in a vacuum, but when you look at the big picture, you realize how little diversity there is in the NHL.
Hockey has a myriad of culture issues — and that’s a topic I’m not going to dive into, but it’s the elephant in the room. When we look at racism, society’s terrible tendencies of just brushing it under the carpet is what the problem is. PK Subban has dealt with racism from fanbases, Dustin Byufglien has, Wayne Simmonds has, and honestly, probably every other black player in the NHL, or any league has. That’s a problem. It all stems from our problem with racism’s presence in society. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just a hockey thing... It’s in every sport... But when we isolate this incident, it’s a reminder that we just need to do better as people.
I’m not here to tell you what to do, I’ll never tell you how to live... But I will say this — if you think using racial slurs against young athletes as fodder to make them feel bad and get a rise out of them — you’re just a genuinely terrible human being.
So, if you’re like me, and you love sports, and you want to see more diversity in hockey, I invite you to challenge bigotry. If you see it happening — say something. We can’t make hockey culture better until we make our society better. Racism isn’t okay.
And as Red Wings fans, we will see a lot of Givani Smith in the coming years. We’re going to see a lot of this, unfortunately. I just hope that we, as a fanbase, can stand next to him. Let’s be better.