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United Center fans ejected for racist taunts at Devante Smith-Pelly

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Smith-Pelly is one of less than 30 black players in the NHL.

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

A group of fans at the United Center were ejected from the Chicago Blackhawks’ game Saturday for shouting racist taunts toward Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshyski.

A Capitals spokesperson confirmed that fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly before being removed by ushers. The winger, who is one of fewer than 30 black players in the NHL, could be seen becoming visibly upset during the game.

Here’s video of the incident:

Washington head coach Barry Trotz called the acts “disgusting” while supporting his player.

“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,” said Trotz.

The Blackhawks released a statement on the matter 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 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.”

The NHL also released a statement Sunday.

The chants from those fans seem meant to suggest that Smith-Pelly, as a black man, should be playing basketball instead of hockey. They’re ignorant, gross, and don’t belong anywhere near a sport or hobby that we’re all trying to enjoy.

Back in October, Smith-Pelly discussed the challenges of being a black man in the NHL while praising J.T. Brown for his public stances.

“You look at all the teams; it’s not people that look like me,” Smith-Pelly said at the time. “That’s just the way it is right now. That’s not to say that the people on the team and guys in this room don’t think that’s the right thing to do, but it’s tough when I can’t look over and the guy beside me knows exactly what’s going on and exactly how I feel.”

The Blackhawks were entirely right to eject those fans for what they did, which should be discouraged everywhere, not just at the rink. The NHL is currently celebrating Hockey Is For Everyone month, an initiative meant to invite fans of all stripes to enjoy the sport. Moments like this show us why that remains so important.