During his time in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs, Akim Aliu accused then-coach Bill Peters of directing racial slurs at him in 2009.
It led to more accusations of abuse against Peters from other players, and the disgraced coach lost his job with the Calgary Flames. But since then, the sport hasn’t learned its lesson.
New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, who is African American, in April participated in a Zoom call with fans when he was subjected to racial slurs. Less than a month later, Brendan Leipsic was released from the Washington Capitals for misogynistic comments exposed after his Instagram messages were leaked.
That compelled Aliu to write a piece in the Players’ Tribune, calling the sport out for its horrible track record of bullying.
“The purpose of this story is not to drag everyone in hockey, or the sport itself, into the mud. This is about the biggest problems facing the game I love — and how we can fix them,” Aliu wrote.
“I’m talking about the racism, misogyny, bullying and homophobia that permeates the culture of hockey. These issues have ramifications that most cannot — or will not — see. They are not fun to talk about. And it seems like most only want to discuss them when something drastic happens.”
Aliu painted a harrowing picture of what he went through trying to make it to the NHL, including two horrific instances of abuse. One as a 16-year-old when he refused to strip naked and cram into a bathroom with other rookies as hazers cranked the heat. Another calling former NHLer Steve Downie a “racist sociopath,” alleging that Downie routinely tormented him and once knocked out seven of his teeth with his stick.
Aliu even went as far as to say the NHL’s inclusivity campaign, “Hockey is For Everyone” was amusing, as the sport’s culture does not support that slogan.
“Many people have experienced similar things to what I went through,” Alie said. “And, yes, hockey has many of the same deep, complicated issues that society itself has. But our sport is a great, great game. It has the power to change lives, to bring people together. I know those things are true. And the point of all this is not to lay blame at the feet of white hockey players, or those who are not comfortable enough to speak out. I understand their positions.
“But I want to encourage true, open and honest discussion about what is happening in and around our game.”
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images