CHICAGO – Four Chicago Blackhawks fans were ejected during Saturday night’s game after making racist taunts toward Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz called the incident “disgusting” and racially motivated, and the league office also condemned the behavior.
The 25-year-old Smith-Pelly, who is black, was in the penalty box in the third period of the Blackhawks’ 7-1 victory at the United Center in Chicago.
Smith-Pelly, who was penalized after a fight with Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy, was visibly upset with fans at the glass to his left and at one point grabbed his stick and walked over to tap the glass with it.
United Center ushers removed four fans from their seats after the penalty box incident. A Capitals spokesperson confirmed to ESPN that the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball!” at Smith-Pelly.
“There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism. I think it’s disgusting. There’s no place for it. Athletes in our country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance,” Trotz said after the game.
Trotz added that Smith-Pelly was upset about the incident.
There are fewer than 30 black players currently on NHL rosters.
“The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Sunday. “The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.
“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games.”
The Blackhawks issued a statement Saturday night.
“We were made aware of an incident at tonight’s game involving a small group of attendees who made harmful comments directed at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” the statement said. “The fans were immediately removed and we apologize to Smith-Pelly and the Washington Capitals organization. We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone who attends our games and these actions will never be tolerated.”
Since making his NHL debut in 2011, Smith-Pelly has played in 320 games for the Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and the Capitals. He joined the Capitals last summer and has seven goals and nine assists in 54 games this season.
On Sunday, Smith-Pelly called the incident “disgusting” and “sad.”
“It was a little different from the night before in Minnesota where that guy was just joking around I guess and didn’t really cross the line,” Smith-Pelly said. “What was said this time around crossed the line so you can kind of tell from my reaction.”
Smith-Pelly discussed the situation with his father and told reporters “that in 2018 we’re still talking about the same thing.”
“We’ve talked about this before,” Smith-Pelly said Sunday. “It’s happened in hockey before. It’s happened to people we personally know. We’ve had the conversation. It’s just a few ignorant people being idiots, that’s it. … He just said it’s a few idiots being ignorant.
“It’s disgusting. It’s sad that in 2018 we’re still talking about the same thing, over and over. It’s sad that athletes like myself 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You’d think there’d be some sort of change or progression but we’re still working toward it I guess, and we’re going to keep working toward it.”