The questions are not only fair, they are essential: Where were the referees and coaches in January as members of a youth hockey team hurled racist taunts at an African-American player? Why did the league take so long to investigate the ugly incident? And perhaps most disturbing, why did these teenage players think it was all right to behave that way? Where did they learn that?
Altogether, the incident was vile. It occurred on Jan. 20, when players from the Cheektowaga Warriors 18-and-under team targeted a 17-year-old African-American player on a team from the Amherst Youth Hockey Association.
In an overtly racist display that was at least partly recorded on video, the Cheektowaga players called the opposing play a monkey and made monkey sounds and gestures while leaning over the boards near his team’s bench. Pathetic only begins to describe it.
“It was one of those situations where you ask yourself, ‘Am I really hearing what I’m hearing?’ ” said Andrew McDonald, the parent of another player on the Amherst team who was standing next to the parent who recorded the video.
Despite the horrendous behavior, officials made no apparent effort to intervene. The coach of the Amherst team reported the incident up the league’s chain of command but until this past weekend – almost two months later – no discipline was announced.
That changed as the league cancelled its playoffs while it continues to investigate the incident. In addition, an assistant coach and two players from the Cheektowaga team were suspended and, on Monday, the president of the New York State Amateur Hockey Association announced that the association’s longtime regional president, David M. Braunstein, had resigned effective immediately.
While the reason for Braunstein’s decision was unstated, his investigation into the incident had been questioned by the family of the African-American player. Clearly, the association needs to be more forthcoming about the event – not just its occurrence, but how it was instigated in the first place – as well as its own slow-moving investigation. Finally, it needs to tell the public what changes it will make to discourage such incidents in the future and, when they do arise, to deal more surely with them.
In the meantime, here’s hoping the young men who behaved so shamefully learn something from the ordeal they instigated and that they offer public apologies both to the player they targeted and to the entire community.