Once again the racist underbelly in hockey has exposed itself – this time in the OntarioHockey League, this time to Kitchener Rangers right wing Givani Smith.
Smith, 20, received a death threat and was subjected to racial slurs from so-called hockey “fans” via social media following the Rangers 4-3 overtime win on April 29 against the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in Game Six of the OHL Playoffs.
Smith, a 2016 Detroit Red Wings second round draft pick and the younger brother of Dallas Stars center Gemel Smith, flipped a middle finger toward the Greyhounds bench after he assisted on the game-winning goal. Smith’s gesture earned him a Game 7 suspension by the OHL.
He also received something else that no one deserves – racist vitriol.
Some knuckle-dragger sent a photo of Smith to his Facebook account with the caption “Hockey N*****,” according to The Waterloo Region Record, which first reportedon the incident.
The venom on social media was bad enough that the Rangers needed a police escort from Sault Ste. Marie Airport to their hotel and to the Greyhound’s’ arena for Game 7. Smith served his suspension in the press box with a security guard posted outside.
“Before we went up to the Soo there were racial things in his inbox on social media,” Rangers General Manager Mike McKenzie told The Record’s Josh Brown. “It was pretty disgusting to see some the stuff that he had to deal with.”
Bad enough that OHL Commissioner David Branch told The Record that “We took the step to provide security over and above what we would normally do for a game.”
“We wanted to make sure Givani was comfortable and certainly hopefully free from any challenge or issue,” Branch added.
But the disturbing part about the episode is apparently Smith had been racially-targeted well before his Game 6 finger gesture.
Following a regular season game against the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in Sarnia, a man poked his head in the tunnel used by the visiting team “and yelled a racial slur down the hall,” McKenzie told the Record.
And apparently there were things said toward Smith during the Rangers semifinal series against the Sting.
As an @OHLHockey Graduate I’m dumbfounded by the Sickening Stories of Racial Abuse out of @OHLHoundPower in the Soo towards @OHLRangers @DetroitRedWings Prospect Givani Smith 😰😡. I remember Ted Nolan putting that Franchise on the map of Excellence,Inclusion,Acceptance…
— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) May 5, 2018
Credit to the @OHLRangers for protecting the health and safety of Givani Smith – but the fact they need a Police Escort to help insure that is absolutely SICKENING !! Law Enforcement, @OHLHoundPower, @OHLHockey Commissioner Branch must collectively step forward…
— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) May 5, 2018
Everyone needs to be better than this. If you see someone yelling racial slurs, you need to speak up. https://t.co/8RtJpgVwWd
— David Amber (@DavidAmber) May 5, 2018
The Record also reported that the Rangers heard “derogatory comments” from behind their bench in Sault Ste. Marie during their series with the Greyhounds and that “there were allegations that some players may have crossed the line as well.”
No so-called “fans” or players have been punished for actions toward Smith. Branch told The Record that the OHL works “to make sure that everyone respects one another’s diversities whether its race, sex, where a person is born, their sexual orientation or their way of life.”
“We have zero tolerance with language or conduct which evidences a lack or respect or disregard for the differences that exist among our players,” Branch added.
But the league hasn’t issued a formal statement on what it’s doing regarding the Smith matter. The only notice regarding Smith on the OHL’s website is his Game 7 suspension.
And it’s not like Branch and the OHL haven’t dealt with something like this before. In 2003 then-Greyhounds Coach and General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck called defenseman and team captain Trevor Daley the N-word in front of several players.
The OHL fined the team $50,000 which was, at the time, the stiffest penalty in league history. Vanbiesbrouck, a former goaltender who played in the NHL for 19 years, resigned from the team prior to the fine. He also sold his stake in the Greyhounds.
Ironically Daley now plays for the Red Wings, the team that drafted Smith.
Hockey fans saw Givani Smith flash his middle finger at the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds bench. What they didn't see were the racial slurs, threats and abuse that the Kitchener Rangers winger, who is black, endured before and after the incident. https://t.co/RqFGJXb52J
— WR Record (@WR_Record) May 5, 2018
This was published in the Star in 2001. In 2003 I wrote one with the headline: “Racism rampant in OHL”
Just 2 of many written over the years. So if you’re *shocked* by what happened to Givani Smith you need to pay attention because this shit has been going on for decades. pic.twitter.com/D6lXX5Kwhe
— Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) May 5, 2018
The Smith incident is the latest episode of racial hostility toward hockey players of color at almost every level of the game – from pee wee to the pros.
In March, Mark Connors, a black 12-year-old pee wee goaltender from Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, was called the N-word during a game.
But Mark’s story also revealed that it wasn’t the first time the boy was racially taunted. His father, Wayne Connors, told the CBC that his son had endured racial slurs while playing hockey for six years.
In February, so-called “fans” racially taunted Washington Capitals forward DevanteSmith-Pelly as he sat in the penalty box inside Chicago’s United Center during a gameagainst the Blackhawks.
The verbal assailants were removed from the arena and banned from all Blackhawks home games.
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