Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly met with the media on Sunday afternoon and discussed the incident that took place in Chicago on Saturday night when four Blackhawks fans were ejected from the game for directing racist taunts at him while he sat in the penalty box.
Smith-Pelly was penalized late in the third period following a fight and could be seen getting visibly frustrated with the fans sitting next to the glass.
“I was just in the box, just heard some chanting, some racially charged chanting I guess you could say,” said Smith-Pelly when explaining what he heard. “You could tell by my reaction I got pretty upset. It was a little different from the night before in Minnesota when that guy was just joking around I guess, he didn’t really cross the line. What was said this time around crossed the line, you could tell by my reaction.”
It was reported that the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black.
Smith-Pelly said on Sunday that it was that one word being directed at him.
“It’s pretty obvious what that means,” he said. “It’s not really a secret. It’s just one word, that’s all it takes. Whether it’s that word or any other word. We got the idea, or I got the idea, I am sure they got the idea too. Just one word, I guess that’s really all it takes.”
“It’s disgusting, I don’t even really know,” he continued. “It’s sad that it’s 2018 and we’re still talking about the same thing over and over. It’s sad that athletes like myself, 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You would think there would be some sort of change or progression, but we’re still working toward it I guess and we’re going to keep working toward it.”
Smith-Pelly said a similar taunt was directed at him when he was playing junior hockey in Penticton
“It happened one other time when I was younger,” said Smith-Pelly. “I had the same reaction back then. I didn’t really tell anyone about it, I guess I just kind of brushed it off. But we’re at a time now where we can’t brush it under the rug. You have to start calling people out, making sure people see other people’s true colors. I guess I’m trying to get the conversation started and show whoever these people are their true colors.”
You can watch Smith-Pelly’s entire media session here.
The NHL and the Capitals organizations both released statements regarding the issue on Sunday.
First, from the Capitals.
“The Washington Capitals are extremely disappointed by the intolerant behavior extended toward Devante Smith-Pelly by a select group of fans during Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. The Capitals organization strives to be inclusive and has zero tolerance concerning any form of racism. Such behavior is unacceptable and has no place in hockey or society. As such, it is crucial to confront such appalling conduct, and the Capitals extend their appreciation to the Blackhawks organization and United Center security for swiftly removing the fans from the game.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement. February, it is worth pointing out, is “hockey is for everyone” month around the NHL.
“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said Bettman in the statement.
“The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.
“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.