The Chicago Blackhawks earned victory number 59 Saturday night with a 7-1 blowout over the Washington Capitals. But what was arguably the most embarrassing thing to take place in the arena happened off the ice and had nothing to do with the final score. Four fans were ejected from the game after chanting, “Basketball, basketball, basketball” at Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is black.
Video above shows Smith-Pelly rising from his penalty box seat to confront the a man and a woman by tapping his stick against the glass divider separating the penalty box from fan seating.
“The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior,” the statement read, in part. “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.”
That condemnation came from a league that carries the perception of not having an issue with the Chicago franchise appropriating a famous Native American as its mascot.
A 2017 Toronto Star article noted that there were less than 30 black players active during the 2016 NHL season. The league boasts roughly 700 players during a given season.
“I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes,” Smith-Pelly told Bruce Arthur in the aforementioned Star article. “Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.”
Per ESPN, Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game that Smith-Pelly was visibly upset by the incident.
“There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting. There’s no place for it. Athletes in our country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”