Amid an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, the Washington Capitals emerged from the tilt the less embarrassed of the two organizations after four fans were removed from Chicago’s United Center for shouting racial taunts at Devante Smith-Pelly while the winger sat in the visitor’s penalty box.
Per Washington Post reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan, fans sitting near the penalty box shouted “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, before exchanging words with the visibly upset forward. Four fans were subsequently kicked out, according to Khurshudyan.
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz spoke out in defence of his player during his post-game scrum, admonishing the fans in question for their ignorance.
“There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey, or our country, for racism. I think it’s disgusting,” Trotz told reporters. “There’s no place for it. Athletes in this country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”
The Blackhawks organization put out a post-game statement regarding the incident as well, apologizing for the altercation.
In October 2017, Smith-Pelly spoke out on the increasingly intertwining relationship between professional sports and race relations in the United States, opening up to The Washington Post about the difficulties visible minorities face in hockey as opposed to other sports.
“You look in the [locker] room, it’s only me,” Smith-Pelly told Khurshudyan at the time. “You look at all the teams, it’s not people that look like me. That’s just the way it is right now.”
“There’s a little bit of a lonely feeling,” the Capitals winger told the Toronto Star a month earlier. “I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together … I can go to Joel (Ward) and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America.
“I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.”