FIRST PERSON — I was the victim of racial slurs in hockey | Item

Why has it taken so long to get justice?

Mark Connors, 16, is a hockey goaltender from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Last fall, he was the victim of racial slurs during a tournament in Prince Edward Island. Here he tells his story and how the system needs to change to protect children like him.

My father is white Canadian and my mother is black Jamaican and I was taught that I was no different from anyone else.

My skin color is not a reason to prevent me from succeeding.

But I continue to face setbacks.

The most recent happened in November 2021 when I was playing a hockey tournament in PEI.

I have been the subject of racial slurs.

I tried to stop it, but that didn’t happen.

Mark Connors is a U18 AA goaltender in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Image submitted by Mark Connors)

How it all began

I reported two separate incidents from that November tournament.

The first happened at the start of Friday’s game.

Five people in the stands – players from another team – began to chirp at me (mock me). Then the chirps turned into racial slurs.

They said things like, “Hockey is a white man’s sport.

They used the N-word.

My coach complained to the referees, but they said they would only do something if they heard him. They did not do it.

At first I just ignored them, but at the same time I couldn’t believe they were using those racial and hurtful words towards me.

The second incident happened at the hotel the next day.

Another group of players made racist comments about hockey being a white sport only.

Mark feels his story was only taken seriously after he told the media. (Image credit: Brian MacKay/CBC)

Here’s what we tried to do about it

In both cases, we tried to stop him.

During the match, we warned the referees and my father told the tournament organizers.

At the hotel we reported it to reception and the police were called.

Then nothing.

The players suffered no consequences.

Then I found out I wasn’t alone

I felt disappointed that it was not taken seriously.

Thinking of other children who might be facing a similar situation, my father and I decided to contact the local CBC.

It garnered national attention and professional hockey players like Kevin Weekes and PK Subban talked about it on social media.

Other players in the hockey community, internationally and in other sports, have shared similar experiences with me.

It made me realize that I was not alone.

It also made me realize that being a black hockey player means having resilience and tenacity and the ability to persevere in ways others cannot.

It was only then that I felt like Hockey PEI was starting to take me seriously.

There was an investigation and hearing by the Hockey PEI Discipline and Ethics Committee.

The players in the Friday night game denied everything.

But the investigator said my story was more believable.

The other players have been suspended for 25 games and must undergo anti-racism training.

This decision came three months after the initial incident.

Mark’s father, Wayne, alerted tournament organizers to the racist incidents. (Image submitted by Wayne Connors)

The system must change, not me

This process left me feeling empty inside.

But I love playing hockey and the competitiveness of this sport.

I love playing goalie.

Why should I give up the sport I love to play because of some bad racist or ignorant people just because of the color of my skin?

The process for stopping racist incidents when they happen needs to be better to protect players from diverse backgrounds like me.

Education begins with the younger generation: teaching them that these words hurt.

Staff, coaches and managers need to learn how to handle these situations and what steps they need to take to protect their players.

Just because of the color of their skin, their origin, their culture, it’s not good to make fun of people.

Mark pictured with his parents in October 2021. (Image submitted by Wayne Connors.)

Advice to other players

It could happen to another young player in the future.

Here’s my advice: if kids hear these words, report the incident to a coach or game officials and ask them to deal with it right away.

We are not going to eliminate racism, but we can minimize these types of incidents in the future.

This game is for everyone and I belong to this game.

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TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Glenn McMinn, graphic design by Allison Cake/CBC

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