The Metro Maple Leafs youth hockey team has been through a lot this season. One of their players, 13-year-old Divyne Apollon II, was subjected to racist insults by opponents during a hockey tournament.
Apollon’s teammates’ reaction was inspiring: they stood up for their teammate and created anti-racism stickers to put on their helmets. “One thing that kind of stood out was how his teammates had his back,” Smith-Pelly said in an interview before the game. “Guys on my team always have my back too. I thought it was good to recognize the team as well for standing up for their teammate.”
After hearing about the story, Capitals defenseman John Carlson approached his teammate, forward Devante Smith-Pelly, with an idea. They could invite Divyne, his coach, and his team to the Capitals game against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena. Together they made a video inviting the Metro Maple Leafs to the game.
During the first intermission, Divyne and coach Brad Howington were interviewed by Al Koken for Caps Intermission Live.
“I thought it was pretty great that they did that,” Divyne said, “and that they actually cared.”
“This isn’t something we’re going to stand for,” Howington told the team after the game where the racist incidents occurred. “We’re going to stand up for Divyne. We’re going to show that we’re going to continue to play no matter what’s going on, no matter what’s said, we’re going to look past this and move forward.”
During the second intermission, Koken spoke with Smith-Pelly about the message he and Carlson had for the team. “We just want to talk to them about what they did, standing up for Divyne, and also I would like to talk to Divyne and kind of just tell him to keep his head up,” Smith-Pelly said. “You know I’ve been through it. And just keep going, don’t let those people try and bring you down.”
Smith-Pelly received a lot of attention after fans at a Blackhawks game taunted him while he was in the penalty box, chanting things like “basketball, basketball, basketball.” Those fans were banned from Blackhawks games.
There were some Blackhawks fans who responded in similar ways to Divyne’s teammates. They raised money for a charity of Smith-Pelly’s choice to demonstrate their support of him and their stance against racism.
The Metro Maple Leafs stayed after the Capitals 4-1 loss to the Blues. Divyne got a gift from captain Alex Ovechkin.
The Capitals’ outreach and support for Divyne and his teammates, as well as their above-and-beyond efforts for the upcoming Hockey is for Everyone month, are significant. But there’s still work to be done.
When Smith-Pelly was asked how he felt about the fact that these racist attacks are still happening in 2018-19, he said he was “not surprised. Maybe I should be surprised, but I’m not. I mean, this happens every day. Still.”
Divyne’s teammates proved that even a small act, one U-14 hockey team with a determined coach taking a stand, can have a huge impact. The Capitals’ actions, and the initiative taken by Carlson and Smith-Pelly, help to further the belief that hockey is for everyone.
As coach Howington said during his intermission interview, “we’re not going to accept racism in this sport.”
Ovi gave him his stick as well (which Divyne is holding). Asked what he would say the players who used race to taunt him, Divyne said “well I’m here right now.”
— Evan Lambert (@EvanLambertTV) January 15, 2019
Headline photo: @Capitals
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