The incident has drawn widespread outrage and calls for solidarity with Jonathan-Ismaël Diaby of the semi-pro Marquis de Jonquière.
On the Facebook page of Jonathan-Ismaël Diaby, a 24-year-old defenceman for the semi-pro Marquis de Jonquière team, there is a joyful photo taken in the minutes before his game at the arena in St-Jérôme Saturday night. It shows his girlfriend, her teenage brother and three of his friends in the stands, sporting wide smiles and white T-shirts with the letters D-I-A-B-Y emblazoned.
“Ready for a great night,” Diaby’s caption reads. Other members of his family, including his parents and his sister, were also out for the match.
The smiles would not last long.
Diaby, a former third-round draft pick of the NHL’s Nashville Predators now playing in the six-team Ligue nord-americane de hockey, found himself the target of racist taunts as he sat in the penalty box from a fan of the home team Pétroliers de St-Jérôme.
“The usual stuff: nègre, baboon, that sort of thing,” he said.
The fan stood up on the boards and reached around the glass to yell at Diaby, showed him a video on his phone of a monkey dancing, mimicked the moves, pointed at Diaby, then kicked and punched the glass as Diaby reacted.
Enraged, Diaby asked the referee to serve the rest of his penalty in the locker room. He returned to the game, only to see fans in the stands harassing his father and his girlfriend and his sister. Some were patting his father’s hair, others grabbed the arm of his girlfriend.
“My family was no longer safe, and I could feel it from the ice,” Diaby told Radio-Canada. He left the game before the end of the second period for their protection. They left the arena, without a police escort, he noted. Private security hired for the match did little, other than to ask his family to move to another section to calm things down. Fellow spectators did not step in to help, Diaby said.
The incident (part of which can be seen on the league’s tape of the game at www.lnah.tv/ starting at 1:18:50) has drawn widespread outrage and spurred numerous apologies and calls for solidarity with Diaby from the league, fellow players from several teams, and fans. Many end with the quote: “I am Diaby.”
A Facebook compilation of the video messages had been seen more than 34,000 times by Tuesday.
“As commissioner of the Ligue Nord-americane de hockey, I want to apologize to Jonathan Diaby and his family,” said Jean-François Laplante. “Racist, sexist and homophobic comments are unacceptable and intolerable, be it in everyday life or in our arenas. … Intolerance of differences is based on ignorance. To fight it we have to denounce it and talk about it. That’s why I invite many of you to share this video. I am Diaby.”
“The events that happened Saturday … have no place in the large family of hockey,” said Francis Desrosiers, captain of the Pétroliers de St-Jérôme. “Please continue to come out and support us, but with respect.”
Questions remain as to why security did not intervene more quickly. Alexandre Quesnel, captain of Diaby’s team, first yelled at the offensive fan, then pointed him out to a referee, who advised security to deal with him. It appears, however, that the fan was spoken to, but not expelled or arrested. Diaby’s team has filed an official complaint with the league. Commissioner Laplante conceded that security at the arena had not done their job and said there would be more positioned behind the players’ benches and penalty boxes from now on.
Laplante was asked by a La Presse columnist if the league would consider sanctions similar to those used in European soccer leagues, where clubs who cannot control racist spectators are forced to play their next home game with no fans in attendance. Laplante said the owners of the St-Jérome team, one of only six in the league, could not afford to continue playing if fans were excluded.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in society,” former NHLer Georges Laraque told Presse Canadienne. “In arenas, hockey is considered a white sport, and racism in hockey is too easy. I was a victim during my entire career in junior hockey.”
Two regular-season games remain for the Marquis de Jonquière. Diaby said he will play in both.