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.
Jacob Panetta, the hockey player who was suspended indefinitely by the ECHL after video surfaced of him directing what was perceived to be a racist gesture toward Jordan Subban, who is Black, issued a statement Sunday night, apologizing to Subban and saying he intended to participate in the league’s investigation of the incident.
In the statement, which was shared via a two-part video on Twitter, Panetta said his gesture did not have racist intent, even though that was how it was perceived, and described it instead as an attempt to mock Subban for acting like a “tough guy.”
“When the linesman was between us, I said to him, ‘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. He added he intended to “fully participate in the ECHL’s investigation into this matter.”
— Jacob Panetta (@JPanetta12) January 23, 2022
The incident between Subban and Panetta took place during a game on Saturday between the Jacksonville Icemen, who Panetta played for before being released by the club on Sunday as part of the fallout from the incident, and the South Carolina Stingrays, who Subban plays for.
Limited video of the incident is available, though a grainy cell-phone video capturing nearly one-and-a-half minutes of what took place was shared widely on social media. The footage shows an initial scrum in the corner that Subban and Panetta were involved in. Afterward, Subban skates toward the middle of the ice while talking to an official, with Panetta trailing close behind.
Panetta can then be seen gesturing in a way that resembled an impersonation of a monkey, an action widely known to be dehumanizing and racist when directed toward a Black person.
The video does not contain on-ice audio of what was said between the two players. According to Panetta’s statement on Sunday, “no racial slurs, noises or anything of the like were said.”
A fight between the two teams ensued in the immediate aftermath of the gesture.
After the game ended, Subban, the former fourth-round NHL draft pick, quote-tweeted an Icemen Twitter post that described overtime 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.”
P.K. Subban, the New Jersey Devils defenceman who is Jordan’s older brother, was among the first prominent voices in the hockey community to bring attention to the incident.
“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. “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.”
They don’t call the east coast league the jungle because my brother and the other black players are the monkeys! 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 pic.twitter.com/8zOJ9q47pk
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) January 23, 2022
The ECHL issued its initial disciplinary measures Sunday, suspending Panetta indefinitely, pending a hearing, as it investigates the incident.
Shortly after, the Icemen released the first of two statements on Sunday, saying they were cooperating with the league’s review of what took place. A follow-up statement, this time from Andy Kaufmann, the team’s CEO, said the the team would be releasing “the player involved,” effective immediately.
Stingrays president Rob Concannon issued a statement on Sunday in support of Subban after 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 NHL as well as several of its teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals and Devils issued statements of their own, condemning racism in and outside of the game.
“Incidents of racism, whether they occur in hockey or anywhere else, are abhorrent,” the NHL’s 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 incident became a lightning-rod moment for the hockey community, coming on the heels of another racist gesture that took place in the American Hockey League last week.
In that case, 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 Hrabik 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.”