ECHL suspends Jacob Panetta indefinitely, pending a hearing, following racist gesture

During an ECHL game between the South Carolina Stingrays and the Jacksonville Icemen, Jordan Subban was subjected to a racist gesture from a player on the opposing team.

Editor’s Note: The following story contains depictions of a racist act, both in writing and in video, which may be distressing for some readers.

In the aftermath of subjecting Jordan Subban to a racist gesture during an East Coast Hockey League game on Saturday night, Jacob Panetta of the Jacksonville Icemen has been suspended indefinitely and released by the team.

The league announced Sunday that Panetta’s indefinite suspension is pending a hearing under the Collective Bargaining Agreement for his actions on Saturday.

Subban, a former fourth-round NHL draft pick and current defenceman for the South Carolina Stingrays who is Black, called out a Twitter post by the Icemen that described Saturday’s overtime period between the two teams as beginning “with a rough fight resulting in multiple penalties on both sides,” pointing out the club’s omission of what he said was a racist taunt from Panetta that incited the roughness.

“More like @JPanetta12 was too much of a coward to fight me and as soon as I began to turn my back he started making monkey gestures at me so I punched him in the face multiple times and he turtled like the coward he is,” Subban wrote. “There fixed it.”

On Sunday evening, following the news of his suspension and release from the Icemen, Panetta issued a statement on the incident via a video shared to Twitter, saying his gesture did not have racist intent, and describing it instead as an attempt to mock Subban for acting like a “tough guy.”

“When the linesman was between us, I said to [Subban] ‘You’re only tough once the refs get involved’ and I did a tough guy, bodybuilder-like gesture towards him,” Panetta said. “My actions towards Jordan were not because of race and were not intended as a racist gesture. I did not contemplate at the time that it would be perceived by some as a racial gesture.”

Panetta also said he attempted to convey his intentions to Subban when they were sent to the dressing room during the game, though it is not clear at this time what came of that attempt, and that he intended to “fully participate in the ECHL’s investigation into this matter.”

A grainy, poorly lit one-minute and 27-second video of the incident surfaced on social media showing Panetta gesturing in a way that could be perceived as an impersonation of a monkey in Subban’s direction, an action that is widely recognized as dehumanizing and racist when directed toward a Black person, after an initial scrum in the corner that both players were involved in. A fight between the two teams ensued in the immediate aftermath of the gesture.

The video does not contain on-ice audio of what may have been said between the two players.

Stingrays president Rob Concannon issued a statement on Sunday in support of Subban following the ECHL’s decision:

“The South Carolina Stingrays are disgusted by last night’s incident involving Jordan Subban,” the statement read. “Our organization stands in support of friend and teammate, Jordan, as well as all other players who continue to deal with racism and discrimination. This behavior has to stop and is unacceptable.”

The Icemen also released a statement:

“The Jacksonville Icemen are cooperating with the League review of the incident that occurred in last night’s game against South Carolina,” read the statement. “As an organization, our fans, our partners, and sponsors know our core values and we intend to make comments and decisions after completion of league review.”

The Icemen followed up with an additional statement from CEO Andy Kaufmann saying the team will be releasing “the player involved” effective immediately.

P.K. Subban, the NHL defenceman who is Jordan’s older brother, addressed the incident candidly on social media on Saturday night, chastising Panetta for his actions.

“They don’t call the east coast league the jungle because my brother and the other black players are the monkeys!” P.K. wrote on Instagram and Twitter. “Hey @jacobpanetta you shouldn’t be so quick delete your Twitter or your Instagram account you will probably be able to play again … that’s what history says but things are changing.

“Now not just the hockey world knows your true colours … your hometown of Belleville knows, your family, and friends know you’re a fraud … with everything that has gone on in the past couple years in the world I’ll say with all due respect to everyone who has an opinion, this isn’t a mistake. We all know what’s ok and what’s not. Even your own teammates wanted to see you get your clock cleaned. This happens a lot and it never gets exposed in the lower leagues. One thing that I love about this is Jordan’s teammates standing in there and showing support. Love that.”

The incident between Panetta and Subban comes on the heels of a racist gesture that took place in the American Hockey League last week.

The AHL ultimately suspended Krystof Hrabik, the forward for the San Jose Barracuda who made a racist gesture toward Tucson Roadrunners left-wing Boko Imama, for 30 games.

It was the second time an AHL player was suspended for a racist taunt directed at Imama. In January 2020, Brandon Manning of the Bakersfield Condors was suspended five games for subjecting Imama to a racist slur.

“Enough is enough,” Imama wrote on Twitter after the suspension was issued, calling out the systemic nature of the racism he and other Black players have experienced. “I’ve been dealing with situations like this my entire life. As a person of colour playing youth hockey, through Junior and now twice as a professional, this keeps happening to me over and over again. We have enough to worry about as pro hockey players and it saddens me when anyone has to deal with these types of issues.”

The NHL released a statement on Sunday afternoon denouncing acts of racism in and outside of hockey.

“Incidents of racism, whether they occur in hockey or anywhere else, are abhorrent,” the statement read. “The NHL will continue to make its resources available to the hockey ecosystem to educate and inform, with the goal of making the game welcoming and safe for all players and fans.”

The Montreal Canadiens also issued a statement on Sunday:

— With files from Thomas Ketko

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