As most of you know, I have three African-American children through adoption. My ex-husband and I both grew up in liberal communities and our family has been blessed with very little racism in regards to our children. We have lived in communities where no one blinks an eye at seeing two white parents with three black children. Although it is rare, perhaps it is because of this that it is always so surprising to me when someone in makes a racist comment towards one of my kids. This is a relatively new experience for us since moving from Alaska to Minnesota. Don't get me wrong, I love my new state and most people are friendly, open and caring. But there has, unfortunately, been more than a few racist comments made about my kids. Still, the number is incidents has been small.
Fast forward to the 2012-2013 hockey season, the last year of youth hockey for my son. The boys had a really good season and played well together, as a team. However, there was a team they played that had two different boys call my son a racial slur during a game, on two separate incidents. The first time it happened, the boy was made to apologize to my son. After the second incident, not much was being done until I filed a formal complaint with the team's association. The association investigated and the boy was suspended from four hockey games.
I felt a sense of relief that this year, because my son was a varsity high school player, these incidents would not be tolerated and we wouldn't have to deal with them. However, I was wrong.
There have been two incidents this season in which a player on the opposing team has used a racial slur against my son during a hockey game. The vastly contrasting way that these incidents were handled prompted me to write this column.
In the first incident, I overheard a player on the opposing team shout that he was going to get that (swear word followed by racial slur). I was at the game in a work capacity, however, and managed to restrain myself from replying. You see, anyone who knows me knows that racism is my trigger. If someone swears at my child, I can handle that; it is an unfortunate part of high school sports. But if someone makes a racist comment toward one of my children, my mama bear instincts kick in and I want to defend my cubs. So it was extremely difficult to not reply to this player. The referee in the game gave the young man a 10 minute misconduct for swearing, not for the racist comment. I assumed that the matter would be handled by the player's coaches. Again, I was wrong. The coaches, after the player had served his penalty, decided that the win was more important than good sportsmanship. They missed a real opportunity to teach the player, and his entire team, about what it means to be accepting and tolerant and be a decent human being. They immediately allowed this player to continue playing in the game. According to my son and his teammates, this player used the same racial slur several more times during the game. I can only guess that since he felt he got away with it the first time, it was OK to make racist remarks again and again.
Last week, a player of a different team also used a racial slur against my son in a hockey game. One of my son's teammates heard the comment and immediately told our coaches. Our coaches then spoke with the other team's coaches, relating what had been said. My understanding is that without any hesitation, the coaches told their player that because of his remark, he would be suspended from the next game, a big playoff game for this team.
I was not only impressed that these coaches immediately took action, but that they placed more value on good sportsmanship than on the win. This player is one of their leading scorers and they still suspended him from playing. They chose to teach him and his entire team what it means to be a decent human and demonstrated zero tolerance for racism, even at the expense of their team. The administration went a step further and sent me a nice formal letter, apologizing for the incident.
It was such a contrast from how the first school handled a similar situation that I felt compelled to write a letter to the principal of the school thanking the coaches and the administration for their diligence in handling the matter. It is a very rare thing indeed for people to do the right thing, even when it hurts them. Those coaches are keepers.
I also want to give credit to my son's teammates, who have always had his back and been his brothers in the game. They could have chosen to ignore the situation and laugh it off. My son does; he doesn't let the small-mindedness of others bother him. He once told me that he knows their comments are their problem and not his, so why should he get mad? His teammates, however, will defend him to anyone and not tolerate racist comments. I thank them for calling attention to racism and making sure appropriate action is taken. I thank my son's coaches, who also do not allow racist comments to slide without recourse.
Some people believe that this is no big deal and that I should let it go. But I feel that these are teaching moments and that we need to educate our children on what is acceptable and what is not if we want a better world, one that judges people not on the color of their skin but on the quality of their character. I am thankful that the coaches of this opposing team agree.