A retired pro hockey player accused the NHL’s Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters of calling him a “nigger” a decade ago when Peters was coaching him on a minor league team, the Rockford Ice Hogs, an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Peters apologized in a letter to the Flames management after the allegations, and two days later was forced to resign.
The Nigeria-born player, Akim Aliu, wrote on Twitter that when he was playing for a minor league team a decade ago, Peters, who is white, “dropped the N bomb several times toward me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” Aliu further said that he “rebelled” against the coach as a result of the episode,, and that Peters retaliated by advising executives to demote Aliu to a lower-level league. The National Hockey League reacted with a statement saying that Peters’s alleged behavior was “repugnant and unacceptable.” The Flames immediately opened an investigation into Aliu’s allegations.
In a letter of apology, Peters wrote in part, “I was rightfully challenged about my use of language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team. I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words.”
Aliu, who played briefly with the Flames, in 2012 and 2013, refused to accept the letter as sincere. There are, by my count, about 28 black or bi-racial players in the NHL, or a bit fewer than one a team on average.
There is so much I don’t understand about this story, it’s hard to know where to begin.
- Yesterday Aliu met with NHL brass yesterday. Afterward, he told the press, “They couldn’t have been kinder and receptive to the message that we’re trying to bring. I think there’s just some big change coming and it’s long overdue, and I’m excited to see it come to fruition.” Wait, who is “they”? The NHL released a statement too:
- Akim Aliu is being called a whistleblower. If so, that was one slow whistle.
How does reporting an incident that took place ten years ago, in a different league, qualify as whistle-blowing in the NHL?
- Were there other allegation against the Flames coach in his current job? Did he have a long record of bigotry and mistreating players? If this one late hit by Aliu about what happened with the <cough> Ice Hogs is really the whole thing, why did Aliu act now?
His Wikipedia entry describes him as something of a trouble-maker. Was this just vengeance for a his mistreatment for a decade ago?
- Does it really make sense to fire someone for what he said, with a different employer, that long ago, no matter what it was? Does this mean that Peters can never work again, and will have to wander the world, starving, begging, without friends or shelter? If a statement—not a crime, mind you, but just words, ugly as they may have been— made ten years ago is sufficient to make a man unemployable and a permanent pariah, then why not 20 years ago? Is our enlightened society now concluding that no one can change, or improve, or learn, and a single moment of anger or bad judgment justifying shunning him or her for life?
If I write that this seems cruel and excessive and indeed unethical to me, does that make me racist too?
My usual question as I enter ethical conundrums is “What’s going on here?” In this case, I have no idea, but I doubt that it’s good.