PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA Mike Marson can relate to what Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly endured when four Chicago Blackhawks “fans” racially taunted him as he sat in the press box at the United Center last Saturday.
“One can only imagine what it must have felt like when a certain 18 year old was all by himself against such bad form on and off the ice,” Marson told me.
Marson doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it his rookie year with the expansion Capitals in 1974-75. He was the National Hockey League’s second black player, entering the league 16 years after Willie O’Ree broke in with the Boston Bruins.
Marson expressed disgust that black players are being targeted with racial slurs and disdain for the fans – and sometimes players – who utter them.
“It’s a shame that pro hockey in all its greatness still has these low points,” he told me.
Bill Riley echoed Marson’s sentiment. Riley, a forward, joined the Capitals shortly after Marson. They say misery loves company, but Riley said he wouldn’t wish the racial vitriol that he and Marson endured on anyone.
“They referred to Mike Marson and I as round ball players in Detroit in the mid seventies and wasn’t (just) the fans,” Riley told me. “Hard to believe that garbage still exists 40 plus years later.”
The “fans” who were removed and subsequently banned from Blackhawks home games showered Smith-Pelly with a chorus of “basketball, basketball, basketball,” a not-too-thinly veiled message that he should be a power forward in the National Basketball Association, not the NHL.
“It’s pretty obvious what that means,” Smith-Pelly said of the taunts. “Whether it’s that word or any other word, I got the idea. And I’m sure they got the idea, too. Just one word, and that’s really all it takes.”
Marson and Riley didn’t go public about what they went through when they were playing.
Neither wanted to be viewed as complainers or malcontents because they thought it would be a sure way to get a one-way ticket to the minor leagues and hockey obscurity.
So they suffered in silence. Riley praises Smith-Pelly and other black players in the NHL for stepping up and speaking out against racist behavior on the ice and in the stands.
— Wayne Simmonds (@Simmonds17) February 19, 2018
Hockey is for everyone. If you think black athletes should only play basketball, than you clearly don’t know much about sports. There’s no room for racism in the rink or anywhere.
— Jt brownov (@JTBrown23) February 18, 2018
“Kudos to Smith-Pelly,” Riley said.
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