When a hockey player hits someone from behind and sends a player crashing into the boards, they are given an immediate penalty and game misconduct. It should be no different when racism enters the play, says 16-year-old Halifax Hawks goalie Mark Connors.
Connors, a Black hockey player, is sharing his story of alleged racial abuse he suffered while playing in a hockey tournament in Charlottetown nearly three weeks ago.
“It started with some spectators saying some racial slurs at me, saying, ‘N-word you shouldn’t be here,’ or ‘Halifax has an N-word for a goalie,'” said Connors. “Some guy said, ‘N-word you suck,’ and those types of things.”
It shook the young netminder, but he tried to keep his focus on the game. Afterwards, he told his coaching staff about the comments directed at him.
“I told the coaching staff I was pretty angry about it,” said Connors. “It shouldn’t be happening in 2021.”
The Hawks contacted tournament organizers and Hockey PEI to inquire what would happen next and were told that Hockey PEI is taking the matter seriously and has hired a third-party investigator from out of province to conduct an investigation.
The Hawks are pleased with the decision but the organization and 700 players will no longer be travelling to Prince Edward Island to take part in any tournaments until the matter is dealt with.
“We were very clear that until we were confident it would be a safe environment for all our players, that we wouldn’t be going back to P.E.I. at any point in time,” said Craig Robinson, vice-president of community engagements with the Hawks.
The Hawks executive says they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism and they need to take every measure to protect their player’s well-being.
“The Hawks have multiple players playing on different teams but we’re one team, and if one of our team isn’t safe to go anywhere then none of our teams are safe to go there,” said Robinson.
Hockey PEI issued a statement on its Twitter page saying it was made aware of the allegations of racial discrimination on Nov. 24 and took immediate action by opening an investigation into the grievous matter.
“This incident remains under thorough investigation, and we will share our findings at the conclusion of the process,” Hockey PEI president Al MacIsaac said in the statement.
Robinson says the Hawks are encouraged by Hockey PEI’s commitment to investigate the matter but says this needs to be addressed in a timely manner.
“We think this possibly should have happened sooner than now but at least they have recognized there’s a need for external support and a need for professional advice and they are moving forward on that,” said Robinson.
Connors agrees and says incidents of racism in the hockey arena need to be addressed immediately, like any other penalty or infraction, but is hopeful the investigation can bring forward better ways for hockey organizations to deal with the issue in a more timely manner.
“It’s a little frustrating knowing players get suspended the next day after for things on the ice,” says Connors. “This is now going on three weeks and so surely there could have been a quicker response to this type of incident.”
Connors says it’s important he shares his story to shine a light on the issue of racism in sport “because this shouldn’t be happening,” but the goaltender knows he’s not alone.
Others have been reaching out and supporting him, like NHL defenceman P.K. Subban, who took to Twitter to show his support.
“When does it stop?” wrote Subban. “Believe it or not these stories are sent to me everyday. This is happening everyday in our game. EVERYDAY!”
Connors’ father Wayne says the support shown towards his son has been incredible but he wants Hockey Canada to step in and help with the ongoing investigation.
“Hockey PEI needs help,” he said.