PETERBOROUGH — A minor hockey coach’s stand against a racial slur directed towards one of his players has been suspended for a year.
Greg Walsh pulled his team from the Nov. 15 house league game after the officials and the opposing coach let a player back on the ice after he called 16-year-old Andrew McCullum, one of two black players on Walsh's team, the N-word.
He has been suspended until April 10.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) delivered its decision on Thursday after a hearing held at the league’s offices in Richmond Hill on Dec. 11.
Walsh was reluctant to talk about the ruling as he contemplates how to move forward.
“At this point, I have no comment,” he said. “I’m dumbfounded, so I have no comment.”
Walsh has the option of appealing the decision.
OMHA executive director Richard Ropchan characterized the suspension as fair, saying Walsh's suspension could have been for longer.
The OMHA sees the racial slur and Walsh’s actions as two separate issues, Ropchan explained.
The Peterborough Minor Hockey Association suspended the offending player for three games, which settled the racial slur issue, Ropchan said.
“They dealt with the situation of the racial slur and we were satisfied with how they dealt with that. Refusing to start play was all we had to deal with,” he said.
The OMHA does not make the rules, it just enforces the rules and the rule Walsh broke was a very severe one, he said.
“(Taking a team off the ice) affects a lot of players and people and schedules and things like that,” he said.
“We are put in a position to have to apply the regulation and the necessary suspension based on the criteria set forth by Hockey Canada.
“It is a Hockey Canada regulation and it is very severe and (Walsh) was made aware of the consequences.”
Under the suspension, Walsh is prohibited from any involvement in all hockey under Hockey Canada jurisdiction until April 10.
The team walked off the ice in unified protest to a racial slur directed at McCullum.
McCullum and a player from the opposing team were sent to the penalty box after they exchanged some words on the ice.
“He kept chirping me in the box. I was sitting trying to ignore him and the people that were keeping the score came over to me and said he called me the N-word,” McCullum told QMI Agency earlier this month. “I felt very angry and upset about it.”
When the penalty was over, McCullum skated directly over to his bench and told his head coach.
“(Walsh) called in the refs and told them he was going to forfeit the game if the coach on the opposing team let his player play,” McCullum explained. “They said they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t hear it.”
When the player returned to the ice for the third period, the team forfeited the game.
The coach of the opposing team was John Welsh, who is also the president of the Peterborough Minor Hockey Association.
Welsh has not responded to repeated requests for an interview during the past two weeks.
McCullum said the OMHA ruling shocked him. It sends a very poor message that racism is OK, he said.
“I feel upset about it, surprised,” he said Thursday. “He did a good thing. He shouldn’t be punished that bad for what he did.”
McCullum’s mother, Debbie, said she was at a loss for words when told about Walsh’s season long suspension.
“It is ridiculous. I guess it just doesn’t pay to stand up for something,” she said.
Daryl Taylor, who is one of two people to take over the team's coaching in Walsh’s absence, said he too was disappointed but not surprised.
“When we made the decision to leave the ice that’s what I figured would happen,” Taylor said.
“I don’t necessarily agree (with the rule) in this circumstance, but I think (Walsh) was prepared to take the punishment whatever it was.”
In the wake of Walsh’s original suspension, the story caused a major uproar in the hockey world. The Peterborough Examiner newspaper and the OMHA have been flooded with e-mails in support of Walsh’s actions, criticizing the OMHA for sending a poor message.
Ropchan said the organization understands the criticism but reiterated the OMHA was just enforcing the rule.
“We have received a lot of criticism on it … but we have to apply (the rules) as they are written,” he said. “We do take the racial slurs and racism very seriously and there is no place for it in hockey, but that’s a separate issue.”
But Ropchan was vague as to what Walsh could have done differently in the same situation. He could have gone to the referees or made a formal complaint to the league, Ropchan suggested.
This was the second time in three years that McCullum has been the victim of a racial slur under Walsh’s watch and Walsh was not satisfied with how the league dealt with the situation previously.
Walsh took a strong stand against racism in hockey in comments he made to the media after the incident.
“There is just no place in society for that language. Period. End of story,” Walsh said Dec. 2. “It’s important that we can provide an atmosphere for the kids to learn more about life than just playing hockey. It’s more than hockey. It’s about turning young men into adults.”
The team's manager, Tracy Groombriddge, said the team will try to get on with their season but said the OMHA ruling will not set well with the players.
“I think it’s telling people that they really shouldn’t stick up for what they believe in and it’s a shame. It sends a really bad message to Andrew,” she said.