The Colorado Avalanche should be in a good position to speak out against racism in hockey. I wish they would.
The Colorado Avalanche have not spoken out against racism in hockey. But I’m going to play polyanna for a moment and dream that they would.
Recently, a former NHL/AHL player with very tenuous ties to the Avalanche released a moving story in the Players’ Tribune. Unfortunately, it was not the good kind of moving. It was Akim Aliu, and he released a story about the racism he had to endure from the time he was 16 — I’m guessing he had to endure it before that time, too. He is of Nigerian descent.
He has two tenuous ties to the Avalanche — not that it matters with a subject as important as this. Neither of them is a particularly good tie, unfortunately.
The first tie is when Aliu was playing for the Colorado Eagles in 2011. At the time, the Eagles were still in the ECHL, and they were affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets. Eventually they became our ECHL team and now our AHL team.
The team invited Aliu to the team Halloween party but requested that he come late. The ruse was so the Eagles equipment manager, Tony Deynzer, could dress like Akim Aliu for Halloween — complete with blackface. Of all the unmitigated gall, dressing in blackface in the 21st century like it’s the south in 1962.
The other tenuous tie is through a player. According to Aliu’s article, he suffered abuse at the hands of a “racist sociopath” when he was just a 16-year-old OHL rookie. The older player even stick-butted him in practice and knocked out seven of his teeth. That racist sociopath eventually ended up skating for the Colorado Avalanche, but he left in disgrace.
It was Steve Downie. You might remember that he got traded unceremoniously — as in “We just want to get rid of this guy” — after he drilled Gabriel Landeskog into the boards during training camp in 2013. He reportedly took exception to Landeskog’s tripping him, so he decided drilling his own captain was the correct response. And he was “unrepentant” about the act.
Landeskog was 20 at the time and coming back from concussion. Downie was 26.
While reading the Akim Aliu article, I didn’t think he’d name the player, so I immediately pulled up the OHL team’s roster. When I saw Downie’s name on the roster, I was pretty sure it was him.
If you can’t even get along with Gabriel Landeskog, you have to be a special piece of work. And Aliu named him anyway, so this isn’t speculation.
The next part is speculation, or at least hope. I’d like to think Landeskog would speak out against racism in hockey.
Now, when Aliu released his story, exactly two white NHLers tweeted support for him. (Stephen Jones of the Dallas Stars and Ryan Miller of the Anaheim Ducks) Meanwhile, reporter Salim Nadim Valji has said the following:
Not only are white NHLers not taking the time to speak out on this issue, they refuse to do so when asked directly.
As Hemal Jhaveri of USA Today points out, what should be a simple act — declaring racism is bad — becomes complicated in the world of hockey. In order to say “Racism has no place in hockey,” you’re admitting on the most superficial of levels that racism exists in hockey.
And this is a league that breeds its players to say nothing, to conform completely. They would be wildly hesitant to make even a tacit statement that racism exists in hockey.
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I’d like to think Landeskog would be different not because he’s the Colorado Avalanche captain and I’m a total homer. I’d like to say that because he’s a rare breed — a character captain. He’s someone who is the face of an initiative called “Friend” that’s against bullying. That’s by his choice.
He’s also fairly bullet proof, in my opinion. He’s not a superstar that the whole world is looking at, but no one’s going to call him a plug either. He’s a captain, but of a small-market team, so he doesn’t have the fishbowl effect you’d expect in Pittsburgh or Edmonton — or Toronto.
He’s also Swedish, not North American. Therefore, naysayers would be hard-pressed to make his stance political — as a Swede, he shouldn’t be expected to have a stance in North American politics.
He’s also charming as all get-out. People would have a hard time arguing with a simple “Racism has no place in hockey” from our charismatic captain. I’d like to think they’d want to listen to his words for exactly that reason.
I’d like to think that, because he’s neither a superstar nor from a large-market team, none of these hard-hitting reporters have thought to ask him to make a statement. He didn’t tweet his support for Aliu, true. But I’m not going to rush to damn the guy for that. He hardly ever tweets.
I may be overly optimistic. As I wrote in a previous story, you can never know what’s in a player’s heart. I’d be absolutely floored, though, to think Landeskog was anything but a good human being because he hasn’t given me even the tiniest of reasons to think otherwise.
So, I’m going to go with the title of this post. The Colorado Avalanche, through their captain Gabriel Landeskog, would speak out against racism if asked. It’s not much, but it’s legions more than anyone else save Johns and Miller, has done.
And if he doesn’t, we as Avs fans should. It’s the right thing to to do. I’ll start: There’s no place for racism in hockey.