The Quebec Tigres were left furious this week after an incident in Hershey, when fans directed a racially-tinged chant at D Ward Jones while he was sitting in the penalty box. Fortunately, both the Hershey Bliss and the league took reacted swiftly to condemn the perpetrators, and the controversy produced a positive outcome.
The incident occurred during the third period of Friday’s game, when Jones went down on a hard check by D Nikolai Kulkarov. The blueliner felt that Kulkarov should have been penalized, and complained bitterly as referee Dave Killoran steered him toward the bench. Jones’ agitation was met with a razzing response from the crowd.
As the Quebec defenseman sat beside his teammates, still stewing, a trio of fans sitting a couple rows back began heckling Jones in a racial way. First, the fans began chanting “Trump’s gonna get you!” at him. (Jones is a vocal detractor of the president, having called him a “racist hatemonger” during the 2016 election and threatening to move permanently to Canada if Trump won the election.) Jones responded by flipping the bird and squirting his water bottle over the glass at the hecklers.
After that, the fans began singing the chorus of the song “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel. The song itself is not racist, but the reference to monkeys clearly sent Jones over the edge. The defenseman pressed up against the glass and began screaming at the fans, who made monkey sounds in response. At that point, Jones summoned arena security and demanded that the fans be ejected, which they were.
Jones recounted the incident in detail to reporters after the game. “I’m tired of sweeping these things under the rug,” the defenseman told reporters. “Idiots like them deserved to be called out and publicly shamed. Every black player in hockey has stories like these, but normally we don’t talk about them in public. Don’t make waves and all that. But this crap isn’t going to stop if we don’t talk about it.”
Quebec coach Martin Delorme declared the chants “absolutely unacceptable. This kind of behavior should have disappeared from the game 30 years ago. As a hockey fan, I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed to think that fans would behave this way today. In a competitive contest, it is easy to forget your brain and shout things at your opponent that you would never say normally. But there is no excuse for being a racist, not in the year 2018.”
The Bliss moved swiftly to condemn the fans’ behavior. The team announced that the fans were “permanently banned” from attending games at the arena. GM Scott Lawrence also personally apologized to Jones and the Tigres. “On the ice, we are spirited competitors with Quebec,” said Lawrence. “Off the ice, though, we are friends and fellow human beings. The actions of a few loudmouth fans do not reflect the feelings of our fanbase as a whole, and we repudiate those fans and those views. We have nothing but respect for Ward Jones, and on behalf of the organization, I’m very sorry that he had to deal with this kind of abuse in our arena.”
A local sportscaster took things a step further the next day. Will Grobacz, who is the play-by-play announcer for the Bliss, stated during the team’s next broadcast that “it’s one thing to say that we don’t agree with those remarks. It’s another thing to show it. This was a terrible thing, but let’s see if we can make something good happen as a result.” Grobacz said that he would set up a fundraising page, where fans could donate to a charity of Jones’ choice. Jones requested that donations go to The Sports Shed, a charity that provides sports equipment to youth sports teams in his native Chicago. Fans wound up donating over $10,000 to the cause.
“Wow, that kind of blows me away, to be honest,” Jones said when informed of the fundraising haul. “Now I’m really glad I said something. Big thanks to all the fans who gave. It’s good to get that kind of support.”