Capitals unite around youth hockey team to combat 'ugliness' of racism

Chris Lingebach
January 15, 2019 - 1:51 pm
Capitals unite around youth hockey team to combat 'ugliness' of racism

Washington Capitals Photography


The Washington Capitals turned a negative into a positive Monday evening, and it had nothing to do with their performance on the ice.

On a personal invite by John Carlson and Devante Smith-Pelly, 13-year-old Divyne Apollon II and his Metro Maple Leafs teammates walked into the Caps' locker room to meet their hockey heroes, weeks after Apollon had been the target of racist taunts during a youth hockey tournament.

Smith-Pelly, having been through this himself, felt compelled to reach out with words of encouragement. In a game in Chicago last season, Smith-Pelly was subjected to racist taunts as he sat in the penalty box.

"I think the main message I try and pass on in this situation," Smith-Pelly told 106.7 The Fan last week during his weekly segment, presented by F.H. Furr. "For every – be careful with my words – one dummy out there that's being ignorant, there's a bunch of people that don't feel that way, and care about you and have your back."

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Smith-Pelly felt even more compelled after hearing Apollon's 14-and-under teammates had his back. When the taunts were brought to their attention, they dropped their gloves and started a brawl with their opponents, who had been directing monkey sounds at their teammate.

"When that happened to me, when I was in the dressing room kind of upset about it, my team had my back," Smith-Pelly said. "And the same thing went for Divyne. They went out there and fought for him. He can go into that room and see, you know, these guys have my back and not everyone thinks that way."

After watching the Caps get downed by the Blues – with complimentary tickets provided by the team – the Metro Maple Leafs were escorted under Capital One Arena, a trip they may never get to experience again in their lifetimes, to meet the players on the ice.

Beyond the mystique of it all, the significance of this moment wasn't lost on Apollon's father.

"It's incredible," said the elder Divyne Apollon. "We've been dealing with this for many years. We just kind of threw it under the rug and kept moving."

"And then to see the outpouring of people who have been dealing with this come out and say, 'Yeah, we've been dealing with this as well.' And everyone kind of felt like, all we can do is grin and bear it. And now you see clearly that's not the case," he said. "A lot of people didn't know about it. And you see the camaraderie, you see the solidarity from other people – of the parents,of the children, other adults, coaches, the Washington Capitals, you guys are all here. So that sheds a light on an ugliness that no one ever really knew about until recently."

Apollon's proud of his son for handling this experience as well as he has. "He's 13," he said. "He kind of broke down a little bit earlier. It gets a little convoluted for him, but he's tough. He's a resilient kid.... He's holding up. I mean, he's 13. He's going to deal with it a lot more as he grows older, so learning to deal with this and to come out ahead is the best lesson I could have taught him."

By exposing others to his son's challenge with racism, Apollon hopes others will choose not to pass that ugliness onto their children. Through time, he hopes, that will bring needed change.

"A lot of it's a personal thing," he said of racism. "You would hope it doesn't come up as prevalent in sports or in life in general, but you're always going to have people who feel a certain kind of way. You're always going to have people, especially in certain pockets of their own cul-de-sac, people who teach that to their children, who feel like that's okay to feel like this is their sport only. You're always going to have that. My thing is, I just don't want it to affect my children or anyone else's children who don't want to be a part of it. That's all."

As for advice he imparts to his son, Apollon says, "I just talk to him all the time about how your job is to perform on the ice or on the court. You don't deal with ugliness. Just win."

Along with meeting Alex Ovechkin, his favorite player, Apollon II also walked away with three hockey sticks – one apiece from Ovi, Carlson and Smith-Pelly. He was given four. Apollon II re-gifted one of them to his own goaltender. "I knew how much he loved Holtby," he explained. "So I gave him Holtby's stick."

"We're all here together," said Metro Maple Leafs head coach Brad Howington. "We all love to play the game. We're out here to fight together, play together and learn together. So we can do that, together."

"As a black player, and having support shown from a black player, is just phenomenal," he said of Smith-Pelly reaching out. "Him specifically reaching out to us, and even John Carlson reach out to us, is just great. I had a loss for words when they reached out to us, specifically. I just couldn't believe it."

As for the experience of meeting his favorite players, Apollon II said he's just glad "my entire team was here as well."

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