In a tweet from Akim Aliu, it was revealed the Bill Peters, current head coach of the Calgary Flames, used the n-word several times in reaction to the music the then-rookie was playing. And people are surprised.
My reaction was a bit different. I wasn’t surprised – if anything I was surprised a story like this hadn’t happened sooner. Because unlike many hockey coaches, players, reporters, and fans, I grew up as black in America. The first time I heard the n-word was not in a song or an academic setting, but during a soccer game. At a young age, I quickly discovered that racism is present all around me. A lesson that many people don’t learn until stories like this one surface. Bill Peters is a product of an institutionalized problem. While obviously he is fully responsible for his actions, he is simply an example of the norm, not an exception.
Some may point to the time gap and see that this alleged incident occurred 9 years ago and point out how times have changed and people can change. First, I would have to argue that being racist is consistently bad, in any time period. Secondly, people can change but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be held responsible for their previous actions. Also to those pointing to the lack of evidence, it is so painfully obvious that you’ve grown up with privilege. If you find it inconceivable that a white man said something racist to a black teenager, boy do I have some news for you. And for the critics of “cancel culture”, it does not exist. If you do something stupid, there will be consequences – this has always and will always happen.
The only way this league could surprise me is if they do something about this incident. Something beyond releasing a contrived statement and mentioning diversity and inclusion for more than a month. Like maybe actively looking to hire more black and minority executives. Or making genuine attempts to connect with the communities of color that live in the cities that these teams are located. Or maybe holding coaches accountable when they’re racist.
Hockey has dealt with a similar incident before in the case of John Vanbiesbrouck. In 2003, Vanbiesbrouck used the n-word against a 19-year-old Trevor Daly and was fired from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the team was fined $50,000. And showing the true power of “cancel culture”, John Vanbiesbrouck is currently the Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations for USA Hockey.
Best case scenario, Bill Peters gets fired from the Flames and takes maybe a few years off where he inevitably gets hired by another team that thinks hiring from the same pool of coaches is a good idea. While Akim Aliu got written up by Peters and sent to the ECHL despite showing great potential.
But hockey is for everyone, right?