Akim Aliu says he has accepted the apology of a Colorado Eagles trainer and plans to work with the team to effect positive change within the sport, the former NHLer announced in a joint statement released with the club on Tuesday.
An article published in The Wall Street Journal last week revealed that during a team Halloween party, Tony Deynzer, the AHL club’s equipment manager, dressed as Aliu in blackface and wore an Afro-style wig.
The incident occurred shortly after Aliu was sent down to the team in 2011, which was in the ECHL at the time.
The statement said that Deynzer requested to speak with Aliu about the incident. The two spoke and Deynzer offered a “heartfelt and emotional apology,” which Aliu accepted. Aliu also asked that Deynzer not lose his job with the Eagles.
“My conversation with (Eagles owner Martin Lind) was a tough one, but a necessary one. I accepted the apology by the Eagles and by Mr. Deynzer. I believe that we must confront racism head on,” said Aliu.
“I believe the time for big positive change in the sport has arrived and that this moment can be used to promote diversity, inclusiveness and safety in the sport and the community.”
Lind called the 2011 incident “unacceptable” and “racist,” adding that they’ve had candid discussions about it since Aliu spoke out as well as about promoting diversity within the sport. The statement said the pair plan to work together to effect positive change within the sport.
“It is very apparent that Akim’s heart for the human being is far greater and far outweighs any grievance from the past. Akim has presented to me such an honourable position it solidifies my appreciation for his journey and my optimism that our path forward will be incredibly productive and historic,” said Lind.
“Listening to Akim was both emotional and inspirational and a very moving moment in my career. I let him know how sorry we were as an organization and how it in no way reflected our values. I was appreciative that Akim was willing to take my call and listen to what we had to say. I was also impressed with how thoughtful he was in his suggestions on how we can improve the game. I am excited to work with Akim as he implements initiatives to promote diversity in the sport. He has our full support and co-operation.”
Last month, Aliu revealed a separate incident when Bill Peters direct a racial slur at him while he was his head coach during the 2009-10 season with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. Peters was suspended by the Calgary Flames following the allegations and eventually resigned as head coach.