The WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds have had a major test when it comes to racial equality on the team and based on a statement from the franchise, it appears as though they’ve made the right call on the matter.
Though specific details are scarce, the Thunderbirds announced that two members of the team have been removed from the roster after a third player was subjected to “inappropriate racial comments and actions” in the dressing room. Both Seattle and the WHL have zero-tolerance policies on racism and other forms of abuse and clearly the Thunderbirds organization is taking the matter seriously.
Outside of the initial statement, the Thunderbirds are not commenting on the matter, so it’s hard to know if the offending players will ever be allowed back on the roster – the specific wording of the statement only says that those players “will continue their education and personal growth in this area.”
The incident in question allegedly took place in the week leading up to the 2020-21 season, so neither player appears to have been in the lineup for either of Seattle’s first two games. And while eagle-eyed Seattle fans could probably parse which two players are missing from the team’s current roster, the Thunderbirds did not reveal the names of the offenders or the player who was targeted.
While the news of racist bullying is indeed troubling, there is some solace to be taken in the quickness of Seattle’s actions. The team did a thorough investigation and took swift action once Thunderbirds officials were satisfied that they had the whole story. Major junior hockey has historically been plagued with incidences of bullying – sometimes with a racist bent, sometimes not – and a code of silence often kept the perpetrators from facing any sort of justice, allowing them to go on to successful NHL careers.
On the flip side, victims of said behaviour were historically labelled as troublemakers – as was the case with now-retired pro Akim Aliu, whose career prospects were seriously damaged after he was hazed as a member of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
What will be interesting to see now is how this impacts the futures of the offending players – especially in the wake of the Mitch Miller scandal, where the former USHLer had his draft rights surrendered by the Arizona Coyotes and his roster spot with the University of North Dakota taken away when it was revealed that Miller had been previously brought up on charges for the racist bullying and assault of a high school classmate.
The hockey world may have been slow to grasp the message of the Black Lives Matter movement when NBA players protested during their playoffs last year (and WNBA players before that), but a concerted effort in its wake had NHLers seeking out information and guidance from BIPOC teammates, with the league itself getting on board, too.
It’s unfortunate that an incident has come up so quickly, but the message sent by Seattle is a strong one and hopefully has ramifications that amplify around the major junior community. The Thunderbirds claimed zero tolerance and they acted accordingly, which is a positive within an obviously negative situation.