Jalen Smereck, the Black hockey player who was subjected to a racist gesture during a Ukrainian Hockey League game on Sunday, has announced he is taking a personal leave of absence.
“These situations are very tough and I am a big believer in standing up for what is right,” Smereck wrote on Instagram Tuesday. “I have been putting a lot of thought into what comes next for me in my career but as of right now I have decided that I will be taking a personal leave of absence from HC Donbass and I will not play another game in the [Ukrainian Hockey League] until Andrey Denyskin is suspended and removed from the league. Thank you.”
The incident occurred in the second period of Sunday’s game between HC Donbass, who Smereck plays for, and Denyskin’s club, HC Kremenchuk. During a stoppage in play, Denyskin shouted at Smereck and then mimed unpeeling a banana and eating it. He was ejected from the game for doing so.
Denyskin later addressed the incident on Instagram, saying it was “a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race” that he made after his emotions got the best of him. Denyskin went on to claim he respects “all people regardless of race or nationality.” Denyskin has since deleted the post.
“I definitely think he should be done for the year,” Smereck told Ken Campbell in an interview for Hockey Unfiltered. “For me, I would think his career is pretty much over…[he should be] suspended for this year [from the league] and get a suspension for the rest of his career from Team Ukraine. There’s no way to apologize for that. And even the apology he gave was really bad.”
The IIHF condemned Denyskin’s racist gesture on Monday, calling his actions “a direct assault on the ideals and values of our game” while committing to investigate the incident further.
“There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society,” Luc Tardif, president of the IIHF, said in a statement. “We will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behaviour is sanctioned appropriately.”
The UHL expressed similar sentiments, labelling Denyskin’s behaviour “unacceptable within the framework of a civilized society” and said disciplinary proceedings would be opened against him.
It remains unclear at this time what type of punishment Denyskin might receive.
Prominent players from around the hockey world weighed in after a video of the incident surfaced on social media, expressing their disdain for the act and urging governing bodies to deliver appropriate consequences for Denyskin’s actions.
“Am I surprised? No. This is still a huge issue in this game,” Anthony Duclair, who plays for the Florida Panthers, wrote on Twitter. “Can’t wait to hear this punishment, a lot on the line for the future of this game.”
Mathieu Joseph, a forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning, shared Duclair’s perspective, saying on Twitter that Denyskin shouldn’t be allowed or given “a chance to play hockey ever again. I am beyond disgusted. Hurts to watch. I cannot wait to hear the suspension.”
“Yeah, I saw it,” Morgan Rielly, who was part of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ player-driven initiative to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts during media availabilities in July 2020, said on Monday. “It was a horrible act. It was disgusting. I mean, there’s no place for that in our sport, but especially just in our society. In terms of what should be done about it, I don’t know. But I think there has to be action. And I think it’s just a sign that there’s more work to be done.”