Over the past 24 hours, BC Interruption has confirmed with multiple sources that a Boston College men’s hockey player has been accused of making a racist remark towards a Providence player during last Friday’s Hockey East matchup. No discipline has been enacted by Boston College or by Hockey East in regards to the alleged remark, although Hockey East claims to be investigating the incident. Our sources have confirmed that the remark was directed towards Vimal Sukumaran, a junior forward on the Friars.
Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna told College Hockey News that he is “still gathering information from all involved parties” and that the issue has proven tricky to resolve because there is no audio recording of the incident in question.
Boston College responded to our request for a statement with the following: “There is much uncertainty regarding what may or may not have been said among players during the hockey game last Friday at Providence College. BC Athletic Director Martin Jarmond spoke with the BC hockey team and reiterated his and Coach York’s highest expectations regarding their professionalism. He also reached out directly to the Providence player involved in the alleged incident. Based on the facts available to all parties, we consider the matter to be resolved.”
The lack of audio or video proof of the remark certainly makes this a difficult situation to deal with, as it is essentially comes down to he said / he said. However, if this situation did occur, BC and Hockey East need to do more than just say “we don’t have any real proof either way”. And if the Providence player is the one asserting that this comment was made, the coaches and administrators need to listen to him instead of choosing to simply believe the BC player or to wave the allegations off as no big deal. It is particularly important to keep this in mind considering the fact that BC’s statement does not actually deny that an incident occurred.
Racism is not trash talk, and racist remarks are far from harmless. Incidents like this one make people of color feel less welcome in the already overwhelmingly white sport of hockey, both as players and as fans. Whether BC can confirm the incident occurred or not, I would hope to see them take a more public stance against racist remarks of any kind, especially considering the fact that the school is already facing criticism in regards to their handling of racist graffiti in Welch Hall last semester. The players (and the rest of the student body) need to understand that racist remarks will not be tolerated at BC, and students and staff members of color need to be reassured that they are welcome and respected.
If BC has any reason to believe that there is truth to the claims that this student athlete did make a racist remark towards an opposing player, simply being told in private “hey, don’t do that, be professional” isn’t enough. Incidents like this should be handled seriously, not swept under the rug. At the very least, any occurrence of in-game racism should result in being benched for the next game and being required to reach out and apologize to the targeted player.
I would hope that, despite the fact that they “consider the issue resolved”, the Boston College athletic department will use this situation as impetus to think about how they can do better in the future. Bring in diverse speakers to help student athletes see the real world effect of racism/sexism/homophobia etc. instead of only bringing in the leaders of teams who are, at least in the hockey world, almost always white men. Make it clear to the players that if they use slurs as trash talk, there will be consequences. We’re all kidding ourselves if we think that racist, sexist, and homophobic insults aren’t being thrown around during NCAA games fairly frequently, regardless of sport. For that reason, any alleged incidents like this need to be used as teaching moments to make all student athletes think about the consequences of their words and to ensure that minority student athletes feel valued and supported.
UPDATE: Hockey East has released the following statement: “Over this past weekend, an incident was reported to the Hockey East office stemming from a game between Boston College and Providence on Friday, March 15. Following conference protocol, an investigation has been conducted. While we are aware some inappropriate remarks were made between players on the ice, we were unable to determine the source of the remarks with the degree of certainty necessary to take further action at this time. The matter is considered closed. Further, Hockey East will pursue new policies regarding education of all of its student-athletes with the goal of preventing any similar incidents in the future. Inclusivity and respect are important pillars to all schools in the Hockey East family and the league looks forward to continuing to promote those values through education.”
The admittance that inappropriate comments were made while asserting that it is unclear which player(s) made these comments is perplexing, as you would have to assume that if one racist comment was made by one player, at the very least the targeted player would know who was responsible. This statement suggests that Hockey East is unwilling to take any steps towards discipline and that Boston College, if they know the identity of the player, is protecting him.
Hockey East need to make good on their claim that they will be implementing new educational policies for all teams ASAP if they want to show the fans and the student athletes that they truly stand against discrimination and are not just hoping this will be forgotten about during the off-season.