Ice hockey – Targeted by racist behavior, Smereck says change is overdue

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(Reuters) – Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL) player Jalen Smereck told Reuters on Friday he would return to the ice despite an opponent targeting him with racist behavior, but the American said the reform was long overdue for the sport.

A video showing HC Kremenchuk forward Andriy Deniskin peeling and eating a banana in a gesture directed at HC defender Donbass, who is black, during a game shocked the global hockey community this week and sparked an uproar against racism in sport.

Deniskin was suspended for 13 games – only three of which are mandatory if he pays an additional 50,000 hryvnia ($ 1,900) fine – prompting further outrage as critics, including many National League players hockey team (NHL), called the penalty too lenient.

“When I got here I kind of thought I would be alone and, you know, it would be difficult,” Smereck, 24, told Reuters. “I kind of knew I would face racial incidents, but I certainly never thought it would be anything like this.

“It has gone too far. I think in 2021 that sort of thing shouldn’t be happening.

Smereck said Deniskin had not contacted him directly, other than an attempted apology immediately after the game.

The American has been in contact with Evgeniy Kolychev, the former UHL chief executive who told Reuters on Friday he was fired for speaking out against racism and failing to prevent the publication of a video of the incident on the official website of the league.

But Smereck said no one else in the league had contacted him since the incident – something he didn’t find particularly surprising.

“It’s everywhere you go,” he said. “I’ve played against him in all leagues, OHL, American League, so it’s going to be everywhere you go. There is no way to hide it, there is no way around it.

Born in Detroit, Smereck started ice hockey at the age of two and quickly fell in love with the sport, relishing the chance to meet new people and travel.

Prior to joining HC Donbass, he had an entry-level contract with the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL and said he generally enjoys playing in Ukraine, where he gets along with his teammates while racing. daily groceries like the grocery store attract the attention of spectators.

“I feel like the president or like LeBron James,” said Smereck, who idolizes Jackie Robinson, a player who broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, and said he hopes to emulate the late sports pioneer.

Smereck returned to the ice – largely out of loyalty to his teammates – but said he would not be content with the status quo in the sport and was determined to create change for the next generation of players.

“I really want to take advantage of the moment while there are kids seeing this, just to let them know and try to really understand that and turn it around so the kids don’t see it the wrong way, and cheer them on. to play hockey.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)


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