Hockey player accepts team employee’s apology for blackface

A Nigerian-born hockey player has accepted the apology of a minor league equipment manager who wore blackface to the team’s Halloween party in 2011.

Akim Aliu also requested that the manager, Tony Deynzer, not lose his job over the incident, one of multiple examples of racism in the sport that Aliu has brought to light in recent weeks.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Aliu and the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles said the two sides have had “candid discussions” over what happened and have agreed to work collaboratively to promote diversity and inclusiveness.

Aliu first made headlines late last month when he went public in alleging former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs at him while the two were in the minors 10 years ago. The allegations, which the coach acknowledged in a written apology, led to Peters’ resignation.

Last week, Aliu revealed to The Wall Street Journal that Deynzer dressed up in blackface while wearing an Afro-style wig and a custom-made Eagles jersey with Aliu’s number and nickname “DREAMER” printed on the back. Aliu also provided photographs of him posing with Deynzer.

Aliu requested to be traded shortly after the party, and played only 10 games with the Eagles.

“I have accepted the apology by the Eagles and by Mr. Deynzer,” said Aliu, a 30-year-old who grew up outside Toronto and spent most of his career playing in the minors and Europe. “I believe we must confront racism head-on. I believe the time for big positive change in the sport has arrived and that this moment can be used to promote diversity, inclusiveness and safety in the sport and our community.”

The Eagles, who are the Colorado Avalanche’s minor-league affiliate, placed Deynzer on administrative leave and publicly apologized to Aliu.

Team owner Martin Lind said he has since spoken with Aliu on several occasions, and called Deynzer’s actions an “unacceptable racist incident.”

“It is very apparent that Akim’s heart for the human being is far greater and far outweighs any grievance from the past,” Lind said.

“Listening to Akim was both emotional and inspirational, and a very moving moment in my career,” he added. “I let him know how sorry we were as an organization and how it in no way reflected our values.”

The allegations by Akim prompted the NHL to move swiftly by strengthening its personnel conduct policies involving racism and bullying during its board of governors meetings last week.

“Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzz words. They are foundational principles of the NHL,” league commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behaviour of any kind.”

After the issues with Peters emerged, Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford was accused of physical and verbal abuse by several players, and the team announced Monday he will remain suspended until Jan. 2 before resuming his duties.

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