Keegan Mitchell, a Sherwood Metros hockey player from Prince Edward Island, sat on the bench during a Junior B game on Dec. 17 preparing for his next shift when he overheard his teammate telling their coach about a racist slur that was made by an opponent.
When Mitchell, a Hockey P.E.I. player for his whole life, returned on the ice, he approached the Kensington Vipers player and questioned them about their comment. Mitchell recalls saying, “what you said has no place in the game” and then broke his stick over his opponent’s leg, known as slashing.
Mitchell was kicked out of the game and received a two-game suspension.
“It was kind of the message that had to be sent to what he did,” said Mitchell. “There’s no room for that, and we weren’t going to tolerate it as the Metros team.”
After the game, the Vipers’ manager and player, who made the remark, attempted to speak with the Metros’ player at their change room, but Mitchell said their coach blocked it off, as numerous players were infuriated. That evening, the Vipers’ player called and apologized to the Metros’ player.
Following the holiday break, Hockey P.E.I. met with each player involved and their coaches via Zoom to discuss the situation. On Jan. 5, they emailed the Metros’ player, stating the opposing player would have a two-game suspension for his remark.
Mitchell said his teammate contacted him directly and said the consequence was unfair.
“[He said] a slashing penalty and a racist remark shouldn’t be equal, and I agreed that it was unacceptable,” said Mitchell. “Then I mentioned to him, ‘would you be okay with me going to social media about it?’”
Mitchell posted a statement about the incident to Facebook and tagged Hockey P.E.I. He also made a post on Instagram shortly after. The post on Facebook garnered over 1000 likes, 297 shares and 231 comments, and Instagram had a similar response.
A day or two after posting, his manager contacted him to say he was suspended indefinitely from P.E.I.-sanctioned hockey events for breaching their social media contract and the Vipers were seeking legal counsel against him for his posts.
“Suspending me for [breaching social media] showed that they were more interested in the way they were perceived by the public than the actual racist remarks that were going on.”
Mitchell went to social media again and continued to share his story with Canadians. Shortly after, Mitchell said Connor Cameron from Hockey P.E.I. contacted him to say his indefinite suspension had been lifted and thanked him for bringing the situation to light.
“Without me being ready to go to social media, or doing any of that, none of this would have been known to the public and definitely would’ve attempted to be stored under the rug,” said Mitchell.
On Jan. 12, Hockey P.E.I. released a statement that said Mitchell’s suspension was lifted, returning to his original two-game slashing suspension and that the Vipers’ player received a five-day suspension for his remark. They also commended Mitchell in the statement for “shining a spotlight” on their missteps surrounding the incident.
“They kind of switched up what they originally suspended me for,” he said.
Mitchell said players need to be further educated that racism isn’t tolerated and what kind of consequences these comments have on themselves and other players.
“If that’s in the back of all of our minds, it’s going to be in someone’s head when they go to chirp someone and they’re going to think to themselves, ‘I know what happens when someone does this now, I’m not going to say anything.’”
Mitchell said he’s excited to be able to finish out his junior hockey career but equally feels on edge with how Hockey P.E.I. will choose to react to similar situations in the future.
“Are they going to do the right thing, or are they going to fall back to trying to slide it under the rug and not tell anyone?” said Mitchell.
“I’m waiting for them to practice what they preach.”