Those invitees are the Metro Maple Leafs, a youth hockey team in the Maryland area. The Metro Maple Leafs gained national attention when they rallied around teammate Divyne Apollon II (pictured to the left of his father and sisters), who endured terrible racist taunts.
The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak described the awful comments about a week ago:
So Divyne, 13, the only black player on his Maryland hockey team, wasn’t prepared for the monkey sounds another team’s players made at him. And the n-word. And the constant chants of “Get off the ice! Go play basketball!”
While Dvorak reports that there wasn’t a response from referees on hand or the opposing team’s coach (either by choice or because they didn’t hear the slurs sent Apollon’s way), Apollon’s teammates responded with anger, eventually getting into fights that ended up getting Apollon suspended for the remainder of a youth tournament.
Once parents of the players found out about the incidents, they circulated these stickers, which ended up on players’ sticks:
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After Divyne was suspended from his game due to a fight at the end of his most recent game. It was revealed he'd been ridiculed with "monkey sounds" by some of the white players from the opposing teams. Which opened a bigger investigation to discover he's been dealing with this for some time, being called the "n" word, being told "he belongs in basketball not hockey". The parents & his fellow teammates created this sticker & all wore it into tonight's game as a sign of solidarity towards Divyne & I! #TeamAPOLLONHockey
Clearly, Apollon’s experiences made an impact on the Capitals, including Smith-Pelly and Carlson. They ended up releasing this video inviting Apollon and his teammates to that upcoming game on Jan. 14:
Yeah, it would be tough to keep that a secret, indeed.
Smith-Pelly elaborated on the invitation to Taryn Bray of the Capitals website.
“For me to meet him [Divyne] and look him in the face as someone who’s gone through it and can talk to him and share my experience is important to me,” Smith-Pelly said. “It’s a pretty gross thing to be happening.”
DSP makes a great point: as uplifting as it is to see Apollon II receive passionate support from his teammates and this nice gesture from the Caps, it’s painful that such ugliness continues to surface.
After reflecting upon the situation, Apollon’s father admitted to Dvorak that he’d “grown numb” to such experiences.
Here’s hoping that the hockey community grows to the point where such incidents end up in the ugly past, but until then, it’s heartening to see Subban, Smith-Pelly, and others lending what must be priceless support for young hockey players like Apollon.