Banned hockey coach speaks out

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:53 PM ET

The governing body for minor hockey in Ontario needs to have the guts to take a stand against racism, says a local house league coach who was suspended for the rest of the season for pulling his team from a game after a racial slur was hurled at one of his players.

Greg Walsh learned on Thursday that the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) had suspended him until April 10 for forfeiting a game on Nov. 15 when the player who uttered the racial slur was allowed to return to the ice in the third period.

The player who used the racial slur against one of Walsh’s players was later given a three-game suspension.

Walsh compared the punishments.

“In the end, if you want to use the basics, is you have society saying it’s only worth three games to hurl a racial slur at a fella… and if you want to stand up against that then you get suspended for the rest of the year,” he said on Friday.

Despite the suspension, Walsh said he doesn’t regret the actions he and his team took to protest the use of the N-word.

“This is not about one person, or one hockey team, or one guy. It’s about that society needs to rid itself of behaviour like this,” he said.

Walsh became most animated when he recalled watching McCullum apologize to him on a national news broadcast after the season-ending suspension had been handed down.

“It’s absolutely disgusting that he should have to feel any remorse for what happened, and they created it. I’m just defending him,” Walsh said.

Ontario Human Rights Commission Barbara Hall voiced her support of Walsh’s actions in a letter to The Examiner on Friday.

Walsh bravely defended his player’s right not to be the subject of racial slurs and led his team off the ice in protest, Hall states.

“His action was admirable,” she states. “But the way he is being treated by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association – a full-season suspension – is not. All of us, on and off the ice, should stand up and say no to racist conduct.”

Sports organizations should be prohibiting, not sanctioning, racist conduct, Hall states.

Hall couldn’t be reached for an interview.

Walsh was immediately suspended following the game on Nov. 15. The OMHA held a hearing at its offices in Richmond Hill on Dec. 11 and on Thursday it issued its ruling.

The incident happened during a game at the Kinsmen arena.

The player hurled a racial slur at Andrew McCullum as the two players were in the penalty box after a confrontation on the ice near the end of the second period.

On-ice officials couldn’t penalize the player because they didn’t hear the slur, the OMHA states in a release issued on Thursday.

Walsh brought it to the attention of the officials and the opposing team’s coach, but the player was back on the ice to start the third period. That’s when the team forfeited the game in protest.

The coach of the opposing team is John Welsh, the president of the Peterborough Minor Hockey Association (PMHA).

The player who uttered the racial slur, the coach of the opposing team and an assistant coach of the opposing team were given three-game suspensions by the PMHA on Nov. 17.

The PMHA is reviewing its internal policies and procedures as a result of the incident, the OMHA states in a release issued on Thursday.

Walsh is being penalized for pulling his team from the game.

The PMHA has refused to comment at this time, but the OMHA stated that the PMHA supported Walsh throughout the hearing process.

Walsh wouldn’t comment on the level of support he has received from the PMHA or on reports that the PMHA lobbied the OMHA to immediately lift Walsh’s suspension.

“I have no comment,” he said.

The OMHA focused on Hockey Canada regulations rather than considering the specifics of the situation, Walsh said.

“The OMHA does not want to be involved. They do not want to help. They just want to blame somebody else for the problem. It’s a Hockey Canada regulation,” he said.

On Thursday, OMHA executive director Richard Ropchan said the PMHA dealt with the racial slur issue with the three-game suspension of the offending player.

The OMHA only had to deal with the refusal to start play, which is a regulation set by Hockey Canada, Ropchan said.

Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, who is the parliamentary secretary to the minister of sport, expressed disappointment over the OMHA’s suspension of Walsh.

“This has become a national story,” Del Mastro said. “I saw it as an opportunity to reaffirm that frankly there’s no place for racism in Canada… They had an opportunity, in my view, to take a strong stance that would have been on the right side of the issue.”

Del Mastro said he believes that the player who uttered the racial slur and his family are genuinely remorseful.

“I don’t think we as a community should be beating up on them,” he said.

Organizations that control minor sports in Ontario need to take action soon to ensure that it’s clear that any form of prejudice or racial slurs is unacceptable, said Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller, the NDP sports critic.

“They need to revisit their rules governing these kinds of incidents,” he said. “They have to send a strong message.”

Miller added he doesn’t agree with the OMHA looking at the racial slur and forfeiting of the game by Walsh’s team as separate issues.

The player who uttered the racial slur, his coach and his assistant coach got three-game suspensions, while Walsh is suspended for the rest of the season, Miller pointed out.

“That’s hardly fair,” he said. “What’s wrong with that picture?”

The OMHA was penned in by its regulations when it considered Walsh’s suspension, Del Mastro said.

“There isn’t a lot of latitude in the rules … It’s something that the OMHA may want to consider in the off-season,” he said. “If the public at large was polled on this, I don’t think you’d find very many people that think Greg Walsh should have been suspended for even a minute.”

NOTE: Coach Greg Walsh made a point on Friday of defending the sponsor of the opposing team, Austin Trophies. Austin Trophies is a great sponsor of the league, Walsh said.

bwedley@peterboroughexaminer.com


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