Colorado Eagles issue apology to Akim Aliu for blackface incident


Former NHL player Akim Aliu during his time with the Calgary Flames. (Bill Smith/Getty)

The Colorado Eagles issued an apology to Akim Aliu on Wednesday after he opened up about a racist incident that occurred during his time with the team when it was an ECHL club.

In an article published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Aliu told reporter Andrew Beaton about a team Halloween party he’d attended shortly after being sent down to the Eagles in 2011, during which the club’s trainer dressed as him complete with blackface and an Afro-style wig.

Aliu said he was told to arrive at the party a little later than everyone else, thus setting him up to be greeted by the trainer who’d had a custom Eagles sweater made up with Aliu’s nickname, “Dreamer,” on the back. While describing the scene, Aliu told Beaton that at the time, “I didn’t even grasp the idea of how vicious of a thing that is to do.” Aliu was then urged to pose for photos (which were published in the Wall Street Journal) with the trainer.

The Eagles’ apology, which was addressed to Aliu, was posted via Twitter later Wednesday.

“As an organization, the discovery of this event deeply saddens us,” the team wrote. “Although we had no prior knowledge, that doesn’t excuse or diminish the fact that this has hurt a fellow human being. Rest assured, our organization holds no ego too big or stature so proud that we are above apologies for any wrongdoings. As a family-oriented organization, we wholeheartedly seek your forgiveness and sincerely apologize. We are truly very sorry, and we will also assure you that this behaviour is not and never will be acceptable in our organization.”

The trainer has reportedly been placed on an administrative leave of absence.

Last month, Aliu revealed a separate incident from early in his professional hockey career that saw his former AHL coach, Bill Peters, direct a racial slur at him while he was Aliu’s head coach. Former teammates quickly corroborated Aliu’s allegations. Peters was suspended by the Calgary Flames following the allegations and resigned as head coach soon after.

Other players have since come forward with stories of coaching abuse, prompting the NHL to take action. Aliu met with the NHL last week and is now at the forefront of change around the league, with commissioner Gary Bettman announcing at this week’s Board of Governors meeting several new initiatives in an effort to eliminate abusive behaviour among coaches and directed at players and make the game more inclusive.

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