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Parent disappointed as racism investigations clear Newmarket team

'It's just that vicious cycle in sports that continues to happen,' mother says after OMHA and police rule no evidence of harassment directed at Black player after banana taped to glass
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Alliston parent Stacey Giasson and her son have had difficult conversations about racism in hockey.

The mixed-race family was at the centre of significant controversy in March while playing in Newmarket. A banana was taped to the glass; a Newmarket parent said it was meant as a mascot, but given the history of the fruit being used to make racist comparisons involving Black hockey players, it was hurtful. 

After investigations, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association has not indicated discipline for anyone involved, and no charges came through a police investigation. Still, Giasson said she does not fully buy the explanation and does not feel there was appropriate justice.

“I am disappointed in the OMHA. I think they had an opportunity to make a wrong right, and instead of looking at it from the perspective of the victim, chose a story. Whether it was fabricated or not, they chose to take the easy way out.

“It’s just that vicious cycle in sports that continues to happen." 

The incident occurred during a semi-final matchup at the Magna Centre between the U11AE Newmarket Renegades and the Alliston-based TNT Tornadoes. A banana was taped on the glass during the game, and Giasson said her and other parents saw it as targeting her son, a Black player and one of the best on his team. There is a history of Black players being victimized by opposition taunts involving bananas or monkey-like gestures, with the ECHL suspending a player in January over such a gesture directed at a Black player.

Although neither the OMHA nor the NMHA have confirmed the narrative, a parent on the Newmarket team said on Facebook that the banana was a team mascot. This had apparently happened with an another Newmarket team, which had used a lemon. The team MVP would get the chance to eat the banana.

The OMHA said an investigation by York Regional Police found “no evidence of a hate crime or harassment directed at any of the players involved.”

“The coaches and parents on the team involved apologized for making what they agreed after reflection was a poor choice. They said they did not intend to cause any harm, and the incident was all a big misunderstanding,” the OMHA said in a statement this month.

But Giasson said that the explanation does not sit well with her. She added that the opposition was aware of her son as one of the top players in the league. She said her understanding is the banana had not been used that way in any previous game.

She added that intention is not everything here.

“Regardless of what your intention is, the perception to myself, to my son, to other random bystanders, it wasn’t perceived as a simple mascot, and who would know that was their mascot?” she said. “It seems ridiculous.” 

Further, Giasson said she received requests from officials to take down the photo she put on social media of the incident, with an adult and the back of a child’s head, due to it causing distress for those in the photo. She said that she felt it came off like they were more concerned about the impact on those in the photo than her family.

The OMHA said it plans to “engage in more conversations with industry experts” to support and educate coaches, parents and players.

“This will continue to train our stakeholders about how to create a safe and welcoming place for all participants. They will be encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of others with lived experience and who have faced racial or derogatory comments or gestures,” the OMHA said.

It added that referees already receive mandated training for actions to take if they hear racial or derogatory comments, and all coaches and game officials have to complete respect in sport education.

That includes the likes of Respect Group, aimed at addressing abuse and discrimination in sport. It said it has further plans to work with the Carnegie Initiative, which aims to make the sport more diverse and inclusive.

Asked to respond to Giasson's concerns about the team explanation and lack of disciplinary action, the OMHA said it followed the policies and procedures it has in place.

"We are sorry that this incident happened in the first place and the family went through what they did," the OMHA said. "Throughout the process we worked closely with all parties and the York Regional Police. It was determined by the YRP that this was not a hate crime or harassment and we respect their investigation into the matter. We wish this unfortunate incident hadn't happened, but will use it as a further learning opportunity."

NewmarketToday requested the NMHA for an interview with a team official to discuss the incident and followup. The NMHA responded with a statement.

“The Newmarket Minor Hockey Association has begun the process of impaneling a Diversity and Inclusion Committee. We’re also creating an information package on sportsmanship and respect for all our players. NMHA hopes these efforts will result in players, coaches, parents, and employees being more aware of discrimination,” the organization said.

It added that NMHA referees are now required to investigate any comments about race or gender during the game.

But Giasson said training is not necessarily enough, comparing the outcome to a slap on the wrist. 

“You can give people as much training as you can possibly give,” she said. “But the reality is if people are going to continue to do it, then there need to be further consequences.”

Giasson said she was criticized by some Newmarket residents for speaking out on the matter. Even in speaking out about the outcome of the investigation, the family has concerns about being targeted.

“It really makes us second guess whether he’s in the right sport. He loves hockey, he’s grown up with hockey his whole life, but at the same time, I don’t want my son to be fearful to play.”

But she said they are determined, even though they know he could get racist comments on the ice in a predominantly white sport.

“I push forward and encourage him to continue what he loves. He will continue to play hockey,” she said. “They think you’re a parent that’s causing trouble, and really all you’re trying to do is advocate for a little boy who wants to play hockey. That’s the struggle for us. 

“We do worry about it, but we try to prepare all our children for those moments. Where they might be faced with some sort of adversity based on their skin tone.”

Still, she said the incident did result in an outpouring of support, including from the Newmarket and Aurora communities. She added that she has heard from many who have faced similar experiences. 

“This isn’t the first story, and it’s not going to be the last,” she added. “It’s just unfortunate a lot of these stories are not being heard because people are afraid of the backlash."