Former NHLer Georges Laraque calls for OHL boycott over racist taunts of Rangers player
'That kid is living stuff that kids should never have to live,' former Canadiens forward says
If the Ontario Hockey League can't curb racism being faced by its players, then people should stop going to games, one former NHLer says.
It was revealed this week Kitchener Rangers player Givani Smith faced racism during this past season, including a confrontation with a fan for an opposing team in a locker room during an away game, another player acting like a monkey in front of him during a playoff game and comments from fans that included taunts on social media.
"That kid is living stuff that kids should never have to live," said Georges Laraque, a former Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers player who has previously spoken out about the racism he experienced in the sport going back to minor hockey.
"Everybody that stands against racism should boycott the Ontario Hockey League," he said. "Don't support the owners, nothing, because that's embarrassing. That is an absolute joke."
Use slurs as motivation
In his book, Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy, Laraque writes about learning of Jackie Robinson's manager telling the player he had to control himself and not respond to racist taunts on the ball field because Robinson's mission was to play ball. If he responded to those people, that's what they want.
"When I read that, that's what gave me the courage ... when I was hearing all that stuff, I was like, you know what? I'm going to be in the NHL," Laraque said.
The best way to shut down the comments, he said, is to "use all these racial slurs as motivation, make it in the NHL and just laugh after," he said.
"When you make it, you tell everybody who called you names, look where you are now and they didn't stop you."
For his part, Smith has declined to comment, only thanking fans for their support.
It's a smart move, Laraque said, because Smith wouldn't want to show this is a distraction as he tries to move into the NHL.
Zero tolerance policy for fans
OHL commissioner David Branch said he hadn't heard any allegations of players being racist to Smith. He said if there was, the league has ways to dealing with offending players.
But fans are tougher to deal with, he said. If an on-ice official sees or hears something, people can be ejected.
"Unfortunately, we don't have the forums and the ability to speak to fans. You would hope common sense prevails," he said, noting they don't receive many complaints about racism in the league.
Sunaya Sapirji is the assistant managing editor of The Athletic Toronto and has covered junior hockey in the province for more than 15 years.
On the weekend, after the news of Smith's experiences came out, she tweeted a photo of a newspaper article she wrote in the Toronto Star in 2001.
"If you're 'shocked' by what happened to Givani Smith, you need to pay attention because this shit has been going on for decades," she wrote.
"I don't think that this is something that you can turn a blind eye to, especially in a sport like hockey where Hockey Canada is trying to grow the game, particularly in communities with new Canadians," she said in an interview with CBC News.
"I think you can have a zero tolerance policy for fans as well. You can hold people accountable," she said. "I definitely think there are things teams can do and the league can do to be proactive."
'Up to everybody'
Fans in the stands is one thing, but when people are hiding behind anonymous social media accounts, it becomes increasingly harder to do anything, said Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis.
He said they weren't made aware of the comments being made against Smith until after the series. They knew there had been a threat against him, which resulted in police escorting the Rangers to Game 7 at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.
He said the city, which owns the Essar Centre, the league and the Greyhounds never received any complaints or information about the racism Smith faced during the third-round series.
There will always be booing and heckling, he said. It's the nature of the game.
"You just don't want to see anything be personal at these players," Raftis said.
"Everyone sees them as high-end student athletes, but at the same time, a lot of these guys are 19 years old or younger, so it's a little different ball game if you saw these guys off the ice. Although they're big and they're athletic, it doesn't give you the right," he added.
"It's up to everybody to kind of keep everybody in check."