A 23-year-old assistant coach and a player from the Cheektowaga Warriors 18-and-under youth hockey team have been suspended for a year by USA Hockey in connection with an incident in which a 17-year-old black player was targeted with racist taunts.
The player and assistant coach will also be placed on a year of probation after their suspensions expire, according to a parent of the victimized player and the head coach of the Cheektowaga team.
Two players and the assistant coach had been suspended by the team in the wake of the Jan. 20 incident in the Northtown Center in which Roshaun Brown-Hall was called a "monkey" and at least one player on the Cheektowaga team made monkey sounds at him during a game. The episode, which was captured on a video posted on YouTube, garnered national attention in mid-March and led to a resignation of a local USA Hockey official.
The other player who had been suspended by the team faces no additional sanctions from USA Hockey.
"I'm glad that something was done," said Darren Brown-Hall, Roshaun's father, who had publicly questioned in March why the league and other oversight organizations had taken no actions regarding those involved.
"What this does is for all the teams, it puts them on notice that this type of behavior, these types of actions will not be tolerated," he said.
Not everyone accepts USA Hockey's decision.
The suspended assistant coach, Chris Reinhardt, told The Buffalo News on Tuesday he had problems with how the March 30 hearing was conducted. He said feels he is being forced to take the blame when he says it was the league and higher-ups who sat on the issue for nearly two months.
"I feel as if they had their mind made up," Reinhardt said of the hearing panel, who he said told him he should have sent the offending player to the locker room after he made the racist taunts.
But Reinhardt, who is in his third year of coaching, said he couldn't send the offending player to the locker room because it would have been a place where he would have been unsupervised. So he said he sat him on the bench for the rest of the game.
"I disciplined my players. I addressed my players. I think I handled it," he said.
Reinhardt, who said he grew up in the Cheektowaga Warriors program, said he plans to appeal his suspension. He said he plans to continue coaching "even after all this."
Ken Phillips, head coach of the Warriors, said USA Hockey's suspension of his assistant coach was "so unfair it's not even funny." The assistant coach "tried to do what he could" during the game to stop the taunting, Phillips said.
[Watch the video of the incident on YouTube (Warning: explicit language)]
Phillips, who was not in attendance at the Jan. 20 game, pointed to what he described as the difficulty in sometimes controlling what comes out of the mouths of 18- and 19-year-olds. Phillips called his assistant coach a dedicated member of his staff.
"He got the same suspension as the kid that did it and I don't understand that," Phillips said.
The assistant coach's suspension is additionally troublesome because Phillips believes the referees from the game will face no sanctions. He said the referees could have solved the problem before it became a bigger issue by simply calling a penalty for using a racial slur.
A penalty for using a racial slur is an automatic five-game suspension which could last up to 30 days, pending a hearing, he said.
"If they call a penalty, suspensions are handed out the next day," Phillips said of the routine disciplinary process the league would have followed.
Phillips said he was told the referees will be sent to additional training. He also said he believes league officials "stole games" from young players when they canceled playoffs for the entire league.
The player who faces the one-year suspension – who will age out of the youth league here but would still be barred for a year from playing in any USA Hockey-sanctioned league – has never denied what happened, Phillips said. The player also "immediately regretted it" and told his coaches he "didn't mean it like that," he said.
Phillips said he argued at the March 30 hearing for leniency for the player. "We've all said stupid stuff at any given time," said the coach, who said he believes the player will be a "different person" in five years.
What happened during the game between the Warriors and the Amherst Youth Hockey team, who play in the Multiple Organization House League of the Western New York Amateur Hockey League, and coverage of it in the media when it came to light in mid-March, led to the league's playoffs being canceled.
The longtime regional president of New York State Amateur Hockey Association, David M. Braunstein, resigned in mid-March after the Brown-Hall family was critical of the lack of action by the Western New York Amateur Hockey League and the state Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of USA Hockey.
State association President Joe Baudo, when reached by phone Monday by The Buffalo News, declined to discuss the organization's decision regarding suspensions or to provide a copy of his organization's letter to parties involved.
"We don't air our stuff publicly," Baudo said when asked why he was declining to comment.
Darren Brown-Hall said he hoped the March 30 hearing would result in diversity training being required; he said he doesn't recall seeing anything about such training in USA Hockey's letter informing him of the sanctions.
He also said his son was to be written a letter of apology – either by players or by Amherst Youth Hockey – but added his son has yet to receive any communication.
"We can just hope there truly won't be a repeat incident of something like this," Brown-Hall said.