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Hockey commissioner: Racial taunts at Capitals forward 'unacceptable and reprehensible'

Hockey commissioner: Racial taunts at Capitals forward 'unacceptable and reprehensible'
Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 18, 2018

Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly was allegedly on the receiving end of taunts from fans in Chicago's United Center, forcing security to remove several of those responsible for the chants. 

After Smith-Pelly was penalized for fighting with the Blackhawks' Connor Murphy, he could be seen tapping his stick on the glass of the penalty box and confronting a group of fans. According to the Washington Post, one of the penalty box officials contacted arena security to have the fans removed. 

Smith-Pelly said the fans chanted "basketball, basketball, basketball" at Smith-Pelly. Smith-Pelly, a 25-year-old Canadian, is one of roughly two dozen black players currently in the NHL. 

"I just heard some chanting, some racially charged chanting I guess, and you could tell by my reaction, I got pretty upset," Smith-Pelly said on Sunday. "What was said this time around crossed the line."

Smith-Pelly said this is not the first time an incident like this has happened. 

"It has happened in hockey before, it has happened to people we personally know, (my father and I) have had this conversation before," Smith-Pelly said. "A few ignorant people being idiots, that's it." 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement on Sunday supporting the decision to eject the fans. 

"The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior," Bettman said. "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."

According to the Washington Post, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said that Smith-Pelly was upset after Saturday's game. 

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. Athletes in our country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”

Fellow black NHL star J.T. Brown spoke out on Twitter involving Saturday's incident. 

"Hockey is for everyone," Brown said. "If you think black athletes should only play basketball, than you clearly don’t know much about sports. There’s no room for racism in the rink or anywhere."

Smith-Pelly said that he had the same comments made toward him in the past, but brushed them off then. This time, he was not going to brush off the comments. 

"It is disgusting, it is sad that in 2018, we are still talking about the same thing over and over," he said. "It is 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 change or progression."