Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones stirred up controversy this week when he slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and noted the lack of diversity among hockey fans in an interview.
Jones, a Chicago native who played last season with the Hershey Bliss, was asked about the challenges of living and playing in Canada. “Well, I’m trying to learn French on the fly, which is pretty crazy,” said Jones. “But Canada’s a cool country. And the best part is I get away from this crazy election in the US. If Trump wins, I might just have to stay here permanently.”
Jones, who is the SHL’s only African-American player, proceeded to call Trump a “racist hatemonger” and said, “I mean, look at his rallies. They’re even whiter than the crowds at our game. It’s a Klan rally without the sheets.” He added that he felt Trump had a good shot to win the election because of “all the Americans who are afraid of dark people.”
The comments created uproar, especially in conservative circles, but also within the SHL. New York Night coach Preston Rivers, an avowed Trump supporter, attacked Jones’ remarks in a postgame press conference.
“I don’t even know why anyone cares what he says,” thundered Rivers. “Jones is a lousy hockey player who wound up on an expansion team because nobody wants him. Now that he’s stuck in Canada, he can’t wait to talk smack about America and Mr. Trump. Nobody cares what a scrub like Jones thinks. If he doesn’t like it here, he should stay in Canada for good. And if he thinks hockey fans are too white, he should quit the game.”
Jones doubled down on his remarks in the wake of Rivers’ blast. “I meant what I said,” the defenseman remarked. “I love hockey, but you can count the number of guys who look like me – on the ice or in the stands – on two hands. Preston Rivers can talk about me all he wants, but he hasn’t lived my life. No one’s ever thrown bananas at him, or made monkey sounds when he’s going down the tunnel, or called him the names people call me. He doesn’t understand because he’s never dealt with it.”
Tigres coach Martin Delorme demurred when asked about the comments. “I talk about hockey, not politics,” said Delorme. “Ward Jones is a great player and a hard worker, and that’s what I care about. I am happy he is on my team.” Asked his opinion of Jones’ remarks, Delorme said, “I have none. I am not his father or his manager, only his coach. He doesn’t need me to stand up for him; he is a man and can stand up for himself. Anyway, I am Canadian myself; the American election is not my concern.”
The league announced that it will take no action against either Jones or Rivers. Commissioner Perry Mitchell put out a statement saying, “The SHL is a league that’s open to everyone, regardless of race or background. We strive to make sure all of our players and fans feel welcome and included. America is a land of free speech, and all our players and coaches have a right to their personal opinions. These opinions do not represent those of the SHL.”