CHICAGO (CBS) — Four fans were ejected from the United Center on Saturday night for chanting a racial taunt while Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly served a penalty for fighting during the Capitals’ loss to the Blackhawks.
Smith-Pelly confirmed the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” and understood immediately what it meant in being directed at a black hockey player in a sport dominated by white athletes.
The Blackhawks issued a statement apologizing to Smith-Pelly and the Capitals following the game, saying they “are committed to providing an inclusive environment.”
There are fewer than 30 African-American players on NHL rosters. Smith-Pelly said he’s been the target of racial taunts in the past, but wasn’t willing to ignore this one.
“We’re at a time now where you can’t brush it under the rug,” he said. “You got to start calling people out and making sure people see other peoples’ true colors. A few ignorant people being idiots — that’s it.”
Brad Erikson is the founder of Inner-City Education Program, an organization that helps low-income children obtain educational and hockey opportunities. He was at Saturdays’s game and told CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar that he will use the incident as a learning opportunity for his diverse group of players.
“Talking about tolerance and how important it is to learn about other races, cultures and religions, and how to deal with it when you’re attacked,” Erikson said.
On Sunday, the Capitals released a statement saying they’re “extremely disappointed by the intolerant behavior” by a select group of fans in Chicago.
February is the designated month for the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” campaign. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement, saying the league condemns the fans’ behavior and backs the Blackhawks for removing the fans.