Jalen Smerek’s experiences with racism in ice hockey

Jalen Smerek's experiences with racism in ice hockey

Bietigheim-Biesingen. It was these general sporting reasons that brought American Jalen Smerek to the decision to move his ice hockey career overseas. The aggressive play here was decisive for his move to Europe from AHL team the Tucson Roadrunners. He wants to make a name for himself, says Smirek. Indeed, the 24-year-old Detroit defender quickly rose to fame, at least on the ice hockey scene, but in a way that Smirek hadn’t expected—and happily would have done without.

Because Smerek describes what happened on his first stop in Europe after only five games in Donbass Donetsk’s shirt with calm but certain words: “I was disgusted. I still can’t believe it,” Smerek said in his new employers, say via video telephony from an office of the Bietigheim Steelers. As a result of a customary brawl over ice, his rival Andrei Deniskin of HK Kremenchuk had imitated peeling and eating a banana. An unmistakably racist gesture against.” I’ve endured a thousand words over the years. But I have never seen anything so embarrassing, ”says Smirek.

But the black ice had not yet reached the bottom line for the hockey player. “Any discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, skin colour, religion or other reasons is unacceptable,” the disciplinary commission in Ukraine declared, but Deniskin just extended his suspension 13 to three for a ridiculous fine of less than 1700 euros. Was able to get down to the Games. , “I was disappointed,” said Smerek, who then announced that “I will not play another game until Andrei Deniskin is suspended and expelled from the league.” He even had the return of electricity to the United States on his mind. “I just wanted to get out there. The first impulse was: Come home.”

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It was also the call of Bietigheim that inspired Smerek to take to the ice in Europe again. Smirek was quickly welcomed into the Bundesliga club from Allantal and celebrated by fans after his first game in a Steelers jersey. “It meant a lot to me,” recalls Smirek of the 3-2 win against Iserlohn Roosters. Such incidents are still on the mind of his youngest son, a longtime hockey coach. About the state of the Ukrainian league, he says, “It seems that everything has been forgotten there since I left.”

It’s not too surprising. Martin Hyun knows this too. Born in Krefeld of Korean descent, he has campaigned for years against racism, right-wing extremism and discrimination, as well as for equality and equal opportunities in ice hockey. “Ice hockey is a white sport, it’s a fact,” says Hyun, 42, who himself played for the Krefeld Pinguin at DEL and founded the non-profit association “Hockey is Diversity” in 2010. Hyun, who expressed his outspoken criticism of the World Ice Hockey Federation, says, “Jalen had to navigate a world that is structured in a homogeneous white, where decisions are made by whites and where the handling of racism is also determined by whites.” is done.” The IHF President is an old white man, with only two women on the IHF Council. Calling oneself an international ice hockey federation is a farce.”

Such incidents have always been happening in Ukraine. “I often heard insults like ‘slit eye’ or ‘play on the rice field’ – from opposing teams or from teammates themselves.” Smeark also reports something similar. Since his youth, he has experienced some form of racial hostility every season. “But no one has ever been taken seriously,” he reports: “It is as it is,” he says with a decidedly oppressive case. where did it come from? Smirek has been playing ice hockey since childhood. During his youth he stated that he never played on a team with any other black kid. “The ratio was about 1 in 99,” he says. His feeling comes closer to reality. Despite efforts by the NHL to reform, only 3 percent of all players in the American professional league are black.

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When DeVante Smith-Pelli was in the penalty box at an NHL game in Chicago in 2018, white fans shouted “basketball, basketball, basketball” to him. News: Black athletes play basketball, not ice hockey. “Hockey is an expensive sport. Many minorities can’t afford it. It’s cheap to play basketball, baseball, or football,” says Smerek.

The problem also exists in Germany. There are hardly any visible role models of color, as Hyun emphasized, neither on the snow nor in the branches. Teams’ organizational charts are like a DAX company – shaped by white people. Even in this country, low-income families cannot afford ice hockey equipment. “My father worked as a miner, my mother as a nurse. And ice skates already cost 1,000 points, ”says Hyun.

In addition to greater diversity in committees, Hyun is also calling for the sport to eventually adapt to demographic change. With “Hockey is Diversity” you get in touch with manufacturers of ice hockey sporting goods to discuss how to further open up the sport. In Canada, the Bauer company provided all equipment for 100 euros to encourage young players to play ice hockey with a “first shift programme”, reports Hyun.

What makes such development steps extremely slow – no matter in which country – are incidents like the incident with Jalen Smerek in Ukraine. “It starts with the kids. When a 14-year-old experiences something like this, it turns him off from the game,” says Smerek, who has remained faithful to the sport despite everything. About his new adventure in Germany, he says, “I am happy to be here. Here he wants to make a name for himself. In a purely sporty way.”

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