They say that Hockey is for Everyone. Unfortunately, some folks still haven’t gotten the memo.
Some players who faced 13-year-old Divyne Apollon II must have been among that group.
Otherwise they wouldn’t have taunted the defenseman for the Metro Maple Leafs, an Under-14 team in Maryland, with monkey noises, chants of “Go play basketball” and “Get off the ice” or rhetorically hurl the occasional N-word toward him.
Divyne was racially abused during a tournament in Maryland last week, and it wasn’t the first time in his five-year hockey career.
His father, Divyne Apollon Sr., gave him hockey’s version of “The Talk” years ago: if an opposing player racially targets you, keep calm, don’t let it throw you off your game, and don’t let the ugly words or actions of others define who you are as a person or player.
“We’ve had several conversations on what your reaction should be – letting a coach know, letting a ref know as soon as you hear someone make a comment,” the father told me. “We’re looking to make it to the next level, the ultimate level, the NHL. You fighting every single game, every single year, no team is going to take you because you’re fighting every single game.”
But the elder Apollon apparently never gave “The Talk” to his son’s white teammates or other Metro Maple Leafs parents. When they heard and saw what Divyne had endured on the ice at a game last weekend at Maryland’s Bowie Ice Arena, they got into a fighting mood.
“They were so angry about it,” the elder Apollon told Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, a hockey mom who first reported about the ugly incident. “They seemed even angrier than us.”
Tammi Lynch, a Metro Maple Leafs mom, was among the fighting mad. She didn’t drop the gloves, though. She hit the computer keyboard instead and designed a sticker with the word “racism” and a red hockey stick slashed across it.
“Divyne Apollon II, 13, plays defense for the Metro Maple Leafs (based in Odenton, Md.) His team rallied behind him after a racial incident at a tournament last week.” https://t.co/lTf0E28hms
— ChuckyT3 (@ChuckyT3) January 3, 2019
“What Divyne had explained to me was so wrong that I felt like we could not just sit there and say ‘Oh gosh, too bad that this happened,'” Lynch told me. “It shouldn’t be happening. And, as a group, we can stand up and say ‘We don’t support this and this is not what our team and hockey is about.'”
Divyne’s teammates placed the stickers on their sticks the next game. Parents wore the stickers on their apparel. It was a simple gesture that scored big with the Apollons and registered with others within the hockey community.
“I hadn’t realized that so many people actually cared about it until she did make the sticker and all the players had it on their sticks and all the parents had them on their coats or whatever they were wearing that day,” young Divyne told me. “I felt appreciated and like I actually mattered on the team.”
“I was taken aback by it, I was floored, I was elated,” his dad added. “We had become almost numb to it because it (racist taunting) happened so often. The response was amazing.”
After the elder Apollon, Lynch, and others posted pictures of the stickers on social media, requests came pouring in from other hockey teams wanting copies to put on their players’ helmets and sticks.
“It’s been shocking and amazing,” Lynch said. “Divyne’s gotten emails ‘Can I get stickers from you, can we get them for our team, I’ll take 100, another person said I’ll take 100.’ It has exploded and blossomed.”
Lynch and the Apollons told The Post that they want to carry the anti-racism message beyond stickers. They hope to start a movement called “Hockey > Hate.”
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