Akim Aliu’s Account of Racism Pushes Hockey to Search Its Soul


Akim Aliu, a former National Hockey League participant, gave a harrowing account this week in The Players’ Tribune about his experiences with racism within the sport. Aliu’s unusually frank submit — by which he challenged the tradition of the game and named his tormentor — intensified a debate throughout the hockey group about efforts to diversify.

In the article, Aliu mentioned a high-profile hazing incident that happened when he was 16 and enjoying with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. Aliu, 31, mentioned that after he refused to strip bare for a rookie hazing ritual, a teammate retaliated by attacking him with a hockey stick of their subsequent observe, knocking out seven of his tooth.

Aliu wrote that the participant was Steve Downie, a high prospect who went on to play 434 video games within the N.H.L. In the article, Aliu referred to Downie as a “racist sociopath.” Downie couldn’t be reached for remark after a number of makes an attempt by e mail and on social media to contact him by former groups and associates.

“He was two years older than me and a rising star, and he wielded his power over me like I was nothing — like I was subhuman,” Aliu wrote.

He added: “If you’ve heard of me, you’ve heard of the hazing incident that took place that season. Thanks to this guy, that was the way I was introduced to the entire hockey world. I was the kid who wouldn’t go along with it. The kid who didn’t ‘get’ the culture.”

Aliu’s feedback resurfaced an examination of the game’s tradition that turned particularly pressing in November when Aliu, who was born in Nigeria and reared in Ukraine and Canada, accused Coach Bill Peters, who’s white, of referring to him with a racial slur when the 2 had been with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs throughout the 2009-10 season. Peters, who by 2019 was teaching the Calgary Flames, resigned shortly after the accusations however has since been employed to teach a workforce in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

The N.H.L. started an investigation into that accusation and mentioned in an announcement that “the behavior that has been alleged is repugnant and unacceptable.” The results of the investigation has not been made public, and a league spokesman declined to touch upon Aliu’s article, referring to the N.H.L.’s preliminary response.

But Aliu’s newest feedback have ignited robust responses from the remainder of the hockey group, as gamers, followers, and different stakeholders reckon with a problem they are saying can’t be resolved from the highest down.

“There was a lot of discussion, of course, around the league about how to move forward from such an incident. To be fair, I think the league has made positive steps regarding what happened,” he wrote. “The N.H.L., though, is not hockey. It’s a hockey league, but hockey is its own thing.”

Since his article was printed, N.H.L. gamers have expressed help for Aliu on social media. “We must all do better and help bring change,” Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner wrote in a Twitter submit.

“Thank you @Dreamer_Aliu78 for sharing these truly disturbing accounts of racism and ignorance,” Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller mentioned in one other submit. “I hope that we can all listen and be active participants in the change that is needed.”

Among the a whole bunch of people that replied was Liz Knox, a former member of the Canadian nationwide girls’s hockey workforce, who pledged to “question my own privilege, and look for areas of opportunity for inclusion as we build a better future for women’s hockey.”

The dialogue comes as hockey is within the midst of a counting on its tradition. The tv commentator Don Cherry was fired in November for making xenophobic feedback throughout “Hockey Night in Canada,” one of many sport’s marquee showcases. Toronto Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock was fired 9 days later, forward of accusations about hazing and abuse of his energy. Five days after Babcock’s dismissal, Aliu’s accusations towards Peters turned public.

In early May, the N.H.L. issued an announcement denouncing “inexcusable conduct” by Washington Capitals ahead Brendan Leipsic and the Florida Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald, who made misogynistic feedback in a gaggle chat that was hacked.

Still, some warning towards describing hockey tradition as intrinsically problematic.

“For me, I have so many teammates and players that I’ve played with who have been so supportive of me in my career, and coaches and GMs that don’t look like me but paved the way for me to get to the National Hockey League,” P.Ok. Subban, the New Jersey Devils defenseman, mentioned in a podcast interview on Friday.

“Our job is to make the game better,” added Subban, an 11-year N.H.L. veteran who’s black, “but it’s also our job to protect the people in the game that have done a great job trying to help these issues go away, and I think we can’t forget to talk about those people, as well.”

Subban, who acknowledged that he had not but learn The Players’ Tribune article, counseled Aliu’s outspokenness, however cautioned that the duty for change shouldn’t fall on anyone group’s shoulders.

“It’s not just the responsibility of the black players or players from different backgrounds in the league,” Subban mentioned on the podcast. “It’s of everyone.”

In a phone interview on Thursday, Aliu mentioned that the coronavirus pandemic had given him a chance to replicate on his journey by life and hockey. He mentioned he had reached out to The Players’ Tribune three weeks earlier about describing his expertise.

“Because it’s told in my words, I wanted to get my full point across,” he mentioned. “I needed to make it as uncooked as attainable. I needed to make it as truthful and as significant as attainable.

“We’re going to need those star players to come out and back up the conversation. I definitely think hockey has a long way to go. This whole situation is proof of that, that a lot of players still feel silenced. Meaningful change is not going to start until players start coming out and voicing their support.”