Montreal·Point of View

It's 1920 in Saint-Jérôme, Que.

Earlier this week, semi-pro hockey player Jonathan Diaby and his family members were taunted by racist fans during a game. The following is a translated excerpt of Diaby's personal experience he shared with Radio-Canada Podium.

'Let's not lie to ourselves: racism is everywhere, all the time,' says hockey player Jonathan Diaby

(Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Semi-pro hockey player Jonathan Diaby and his family members were taunted last week by racist fans during a game.

Diaby, 24, is a defenceman for the Marquis de Jonquière, a team in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey.

They left the arena mid-way through the second period.

The following is a translated excerpt of Diaby's personal experience he shared with Radio-Canada journalist François Foisy for Radio-Canada's Podium.

The night wasn't supposed to go down like that. I was going to play a hockey game. Just a hockey game.

I've been drafted by the National Hockey League. I've played with P.K. Subban, with Shea Weber. I've experienced all that. I'm elsewhere in my life now. If I play hockey, it's for fun — because I love it.

It was supposed to be a game like any other. Actually, it was supposed to be a game even more fun than any other because my teammates and I, from the Marquis de Jonquière of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, were playing in Saint-Jérôme, Que. It was like a homecoming. I grew up here, right nearby. It's home.

That's why so many of my close family and friends were in the stands of the Rivière-du-Nord arena. My father, my mother, my aunt, my sister and her boyfriend, my girlfriend, her little 12-year-old brother with his four friends, his mother, her friend — about a good dozen in all.

But things went horribly wrong.

Jonathan Diaby, who wears number 3 for the Marquis de Jonquière, said he is paid to stay focused on the ice, but he couldn't tolerate his family being targeted by racist comments. (Hugo Cotnoir)

There was tension in the air right from the start. The adversaries, the Pétroliers du Nord, were playing the toughness-and-provocation card.

I get a first penalty called against me. A young fan comes to taunt me while I'm in the penalty box. There's verbal jousting in the stands where my family members are. The racist slurs: "Baboon! N--ger! Go back to where you came from!"

After the first period, I want to leave the match and go home. I can put up with violence against me, but not against my loved ones. Never.

It's my coach who convinces me to stay. The second period was even worse than the first. Another penalty, and when I glance over in the direction of my family in the stands, there's more ruckus.

Jonathan Diaby said his father, Moussa Diaby, kept his cool during the scuffle in the stands. (Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey)

Someone passed their hand through my father's hair. The insults towards my family continue.

"Fat cow!"

I tell my captain, who is sitting next to me from the penalty bench, "It's enough, man. I'm leaving."

I hide my face in the collar of my jersey. Tears are streaming down my cheeks.

I've been playing hockey since I was a little kid. I've played played at the professional level. I'm now 24 and in this arena in Saint-Jérôme, on that Saturday night, it was the first time that hockey has ever made me cry.

After my penalty, I slip into the dressing room, completely shaken. It was too much.… Once outside, I realize that my father is not there. I yell at my mother to go get him. I raise my eyes. In front of me, about 30 fans who came outside for a smoke are looking at me. Some yell at me, calling me names.

My father finally emerges from the arena.

I bolt into the car with my girlfriend. We leave. Finally.

It was 1920, I tell you.

'Racism is everywhere'

Yes, we are lucky to live in a society like ours, which is more open-minded than most societies in the world.

But let's not lie to ourselves: racism is everywhere, all the time.

Yes, here too.

Jonathan Diaby says that despite the incident that transpired at the arena, he remains committed to finishing his season with his team, the Marquis de Jonquière. (Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey)

Just last week, I went to a bar. A guy says to me, "Look over there, there's a black girl."

Why would I look at her over anyone else? Because I'm black?

Racism is everywhere, I'm telling you.

It still happens to me where I'm shopping with my white girlfriend and the cashier looks at us asking if we are a couple.

Yes, it's everywhere, all the time.

And it's not just white people who are racist. I have some black friends who are racist too, against white people. I'm sure Asians have the same experience too.

It's my dad, who came from Ivory Coast 34 years ago, when he was in his 20s, who taught me how to live with ignorant people.

He's always been very diplomatic in these kinds of situations. And he demonstrated his dignity again on Saturday night: he stood up for what he believes in.

He never threw a punch, but didn't let anyone step on him and let the assailants know that that was no way to behave.

But, you know, while I was going home Saturday night, my girlfriend's mother drove her young son and his four friends back home.

And these young kids took turns asking her why in God's name did people target me and my family and mention our skin colour?

They didn't understand. These young kids didn't get how people could behave in such a manner.

Those young people. The hundreds of messages of support I received. The phone calls and the reaction of my teammates and of other players in the league.

The inundation of support in these last few days that this sad and deplorable event caused.

All this gives me hope, and the courage, to keep playing.

Jonathan Diaby makes rap music and goes by the name Dolo in the industry. He says the negative experience he went through at the arena will fuel his work in music. (CBC)

I will stand by my commitment, finish the season and continue to play until the end of the playoffs.

I made a commitment, and I respect my commitments.

And after that? I won't lie to you: this incident opened my eyes. I will certainly reflect very seriously on my hockey future.

Worst case scenario, from time to time, I will gather a group of friends together, and we'll play on an outdoor rink and then all go grab a bite afterwards. It's that simple.

And I'll put all my energy in my music. (I make rap music and go by the name Dolo.)

I have lots to say.

About the Author

Jonathan Diaby

Semi-professional hockey player

Jonathan Diaby is a defenceman for the Marquis de Jonquière, a team in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey. He and his family members were taunted by racist fans during a game in February 2019 at an arena in Saint-Jérôme, Que.

Translated by CBC journalist Sabrina Marandola


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