Less than 48 hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a plan for how the league and its clubs will handle abusive conduct moving forward, The Wall Street Journal published a story Wednesday shedding light on a racist incident in 2011.
Akim Aliu, who wrote on Twitter in November about racist comments by then-Rockford Ice Hogs coach Bill Peters that eventually led to Peters’ resignation in late November as coach of the Calgary Flames, told the Journal of an episode that occurred when he was a member of the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles. Aliu, who was born in Nigeria, was invited to the team’s Halloween party, where head equipment manager Tony Deynzer was wearing an Afro-style wig, blackface and a custom jersey sporting Aliu’s number and nickname, “Dreamer.”
“Guys just started laughing,” Aliu told the WSJ, adding that his teammates made him pose with Deynzer, who is the only one smiling in the picture. “All I can do is tell my story.”
“I didn’t even grasp the idea of how vicious of a thing that is to do,” Aliu added
Deynzer still works for the Eagles. ESPN reported that the club has placed him on administrative leave. The Eagles also issued an apology to Aliu on Twitter:
“As an organization, the discovery of this event deeply saddens us. Although we had no prior knowledge, that doesn’t excuse or diminish the fact that this has hurt a fellow human being. Rest assured, our organization holds no ego too big or stature so proud that we are above apologies for any wrongdoings. As a family-oriented organization, we wholeheartedly seek your forgiveness and sincerely apologize. We are truly very sorry, and we will also assure you that this behavior is not and never will be acceptable in our organization.”
The Eagles were an affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets at the time and now are the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate.
Aliu, a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, played in 10 games with the Eagles. He told the WSJ he asked for a trade a few weeks after the incident because of stress that required hospitalization. The Jets traded him to the Flames on Jan. 29, 2012, for John Negrin. Aliu played in seven games over two seasons with Calgary, netting two goals and three points.
Last week, Aliu met with Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly and reportedly informed them of what transpired. After Bettman released his plan Monday, Aliu responded on Twitter.
“I am encouraged the commissioner embraced many of the changes we proposed at the meeting,” he wrote. “Now the hard work begins of focusing on specifics and implementing policy that will make this sport more diverse, safer, and accountable. We have to ensure that future generations of hockey players do not face the barriers and racism that I have throughout my career. Together we can do something truly great and transformative for hockey.”
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