Racist jeers on and off the sports field or rink,has been a problem since the beginning of sports history. Jim Thorpe went through it, Fred Sasakamoose, did. So did pioneers like Louis Sockalexis and Jackie Robinson.
Collin Peter-Paul recalls what it was like for his sons, who are now in their 20s, when they played hockey as children. And he said the memories still scar him. “To me, it was just like yesterday,” Peter-Paul told CBC News. “My son was complaining, he was saying, these guys are calling me ‘wagon burner’ and everything else. So my son went and fought with all of them. He was really mad and he was crying and the whole works.”
Chief Bob Gloade of the Millbrook First Nation told the paper that Peter-Paul’s stories are not something new, but he also pointed out that the taunts and jeers may be targeted at the stronger athletes just to get their head out of the game. “You get targeted, and you get taunted, and they get remarks thrown at them during the game and sometimes it may be players from opposing teams…it can also happen from teammates as well,” Gloade told CBC.
Tyler Woodhouse, 19, who plays on the First Nation team Peguis Junior B hockey, as well as other non-First Nations teams told CBC he’s heard slurs from both groups. “It gets to them. It takes them off their game, which is what they want,” he said. “I guess they consider that a strategy, and it’s not only from the players. Also we get it from a lot of spectators, parents, from the other teams.”
Woodhouse says he’s been told to “go back where you belong” and even called a “dirty Indian.”
And this isn’t just happening in the smaller local leagues, it’s happening in the pros as well.
Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuk player in the NHL. ?”The first time I ever faced racism was when we went down south to play in a couple of native tournaments. The fans and the people away from the rink were calling us names,” he recalled to CBC. “I left home when I was 14 for good and I think that’s when I really experienced racism. It wasn’t easy being the only Inuk kid in the area and having a lot of other individuals being jealous of my success.”
He said, however, that these experiences weren’t limited to his upbringing as a young adult. “I experienced it last year,” he said. “I’m not going to hold things in anymore. I can’t. I need to speak out, and for them to understand how hurtful it is, especially at the professional level,” he said.
Tootoo said that he took his concerns to the NHL to adopt a no-tolerance policy to racial insults. “It’s got to be dealt with extremely high because if it slips once, it’s going to happen again. You do it once, maybe you get a suspension,” he said.
But players across all sports and at all skill levels should not have to tolerate it. They say it comes down to respecting the game. “It doesn’t matter what skin colour you are,” Tootoo told CBC. The game of hockey is a game that everyone should enjoy.”