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USA Hockey increases punishment for racial, derogatory slurs

Offenders will receive match penalty, disqualification from game and be suspended indefinitely

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- John Carlson lauded USA Hockey's decision to stiffen the penalty for using racial and derogatory slurs.

"That's a no-brainer, I don't see why it hasn't been that way but it's nice to see things moving forward and making progress," the Washington Capitals defenseman said after practice Thursday. "I don't know in youth hockey how much it happens, but one time is too many. If this stiffening makes a difference, then great, if not, there has to be stiffer penalties."

On Wednesday, USA Hockey announced that it was immediately increasing the punishment for the use of racial/derogatory slurs from a game misconduct to a match penalty, which carries a five-minute time penalty, disqualification from the game in which it occurs, and suspension until a USA Hockey affiliate or junior league has conducted a hearing to review the incident.

The USA Hockey affiliate or junior league has up to 30 days to investigate the incident and conduct a hearing and those entities can level additional punishment.

"We continue to receive reports of disturbing incidents involving racial and other derogatory slurs, behavior which is reprehensible and has absolutely no place in our game, especially around our children," USA Hockey President Jim Smith said in a letter to organization members Wednesday. "For reasons which I cannot explain or understand, this penalty does not seem to be enough of a deterrent to stop this conduct."

USA Hockey officials said no one incident triggered the change. Several incidents involving youth hockey players of color being subjected to racial slurs and taunts occurred last season in the United States and Canada and garnered national attention.

Several NHL teams and players reached out to the abused players. Carlson and former Capitals teammate Devante Smith-Pelly contacted Divyne Apollon II and his Washington-area Metro Maple Leafs team after Apollon II endured racial taunts during a youth hockey tournament in December.

The Capitals hosted the entire Metro Maple Leafs at a game last season, and the young players met with Carlson, Smith-Pelly, Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and others afterwards.

"In the heat of the moment (during a game), sometimes you say things, but when you get on the side of racism and things like that there's no room for that in our game," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said Thursday. "A lot of times, 99-97 percent of the time, in my experience hockey players are pretty good people, and so that comes with being a good person and respecting each other."

Holtby, who chatted briefly with Metro Maple Leafs players and parents last season, said he supports USA Hockey increasing the punishment for using slurs to a match penalty.

"That's what it should be, it should be more," Holtby said. "There's no room for that stuff in our sport, or the world for that matter. Sport, especially youth sport, I believe, is one of the best ways to strengthen character and instill morals and values into young people."

Tammi Lynch, a Metro Maple Leafs parent who co-founded Players Against Hate with Apollon II's father, called USA Hockey's move a good first step.

"I think it's a start," said Lynch, who was a finalist for the 2019 Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award. "I think you can't address a problem until you acknowledge it, so they're addressing it. It's a good first step."

Darren Brown-Hall, whose son, Roshaun Brown-Hall, was racially taunted during a youth hockey game in upstate New York last season, agreed.

"No sport has any room for this," said Darren Brown-Hall, whose family attended a Buffalo Sabres game after the incident and met with forward Kyle Okposo. "We have to get further with our appreciation of diversity, of our appreciation for anybody that wants to play the sport of hockey without having to fear getting on the ice and being called a derogatory name or being insulted. So absolutely, this is headed in the right direction."

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