Several supporters of diversity and inclusion in hockey are expressing dismay and disappointment over USA Hockey’s decision to make retired NHL goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck its assistant executive director for hockey operations.
Anson Carter, who played in the National Hockey League for 11 seasons and now analyzes NHL and U.S. college hockey for NBC Sports Network, didn’t mince words about USA Hockey’s selection of Vanbiesbrouck, who called Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley the N-word when he played Canadian major junior hockey 15 years ago.
“I understand people make mistakes and eventually they should be forgiven. However, I find it very hard to believe that USA Hockey couldn’t find anyone else that was a suitable candidate without that kind of baggage who was eligible to hold such an important position,” said Carter, who also hosts “The MSG Hockey Show” in New York.
“Hockey is moving forward not going backwards.”
John Paris Jr., the first black head coach to win a professional ice hockey championship, wrote on the sports website Boxscore that “John Vanbiesbrouck should not be branded a die-hard racist” for uttering a racial slur at Daley in 2003.
Daley was captain of the Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Vanbiesbrouck was coach and general manager of the Ontario Hockey League team at the time.
“However, his nomination by USA Hockey as an assistant director of hockey operations has created some confusion which has multiple ethnic groups questioning the why,” Paris wrote. “Could this be privilege or a poorly handled situation?”
— Muskegon Lumberjacks (@MuskegonJacks) May 23, 2018
Lexi LaFleur Brown, wife of forward J.T. Brown, who played for the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning last season, tweeted “I buy @usahockey membership every year to play. I hope one day our kids will play.”
“But right now I am extremely disappointed,” she wrote in the May 25 tweet. “Does this new hire promote growth and the best experience? Shouldn’t growth include taking steps to assure no one is ever called a racial slur again?”
USA Hockey officials formally introduced Vanbiesbrouck as its new assistant executive director for hockey operations on Friday. He succeeds Jim Johannson, who passed away in January at the age of 53.
Vanbiesbrouck addressed the Daley incident in a teleconference with reporters on Friday, saying “I was absolutely, 100 percent wrong” for using the slur against a then-19-year-old Daley.
“There’s not a lot of days that go by that I don’t feel remorse for that,” he added. “I’m extremely sorry for it. It’s not who I am, it doesn’t define me as a person and I have no prejudices in me, and it will never happen again.”
Vanbiesbrouck and USA Hockey officials said they’re committed to making hockey more diverse and inclusive in the United States.
“I’m proud to say that USA Hockey has a long-standing way forward and a really great slogan… and that is hockey is for everybody and for everyone,” Vanbiesbrouck told reporters Friday. “And we’re going to continue to build on that work and further diversity and inclusion, and I look forward to being a big part of those efforts.”
I buy a @usahockey membership every year to play. I hope one day our kids will play. But right now I am extremely disappointed. Does this new hire promote growth and the best experience? Shouldn’t growth include taking steps to assure no one is ever called a racial slur again?
— Lexi Brown (@lexilafleur) May 26, 2018
15 years ago, he shouldn’t be allowed to be forgiven or move on from that? He made a mistake and paid for it.
— Blake Meakin (@BlakeEMeakin) May 24, 2018
Still, Vanbiesbrouck’s appointment has received heavy criticism on social media. The 20-season NHL veteran has also received support from people who believe in the power of forgiveness and point out that the incident occurred 15 years ago.
Since then, Vanbiesbrouck and Daley have climbed hockey’s ladder. Vanbiesbrouck was general manager of the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL before taking the USA Hockey job.
Daley has developed into a solid NHL defenseman, playing for the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Red Wings. He won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins before signing with the Red Wings last season.
Val James, who became the NHL’s first American-born black player when he joined the Buffalo Sabres in 1981-82 believes that Vanbiesbrouck needs to personally apologize to Daley and his family for the slur – if he hasn’t already – as he assumes the USA Hockey post.
“I think John should personally apologize to Trevor for calling him that demeaning word,” James told me. “John now being in that position should wipe the slate clean.”
Vanbiesbrouck said he’s “a big fan” of Daley’s but added that their “paths have not crossed” over the years.
“I’m not in a lot of the big buildings where he’s been at the pro level,” Vanbiesbrouck told me. “I’ve been mostly in minor hockey buildings…he’s been far removed from that.”
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