Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones, one of the SHL’s few black players, has been subject to racist taunts and controversies throughout his career. This week, a loose-minded racial quip directed at Jones by a Washington Galaxy broadcaster triggered a firestorm around the league.
The incident occurred during the third period of Tuesday’s Quebec-Washington tilt, when Jones got into a fight with Galaxy D Bruce Hogaboom. The two traded blows with abandon, leading Washington radio color man Doug Jacobson to exclaim delightedly that it was “a real heavyweight bout!”
Replied play-by-play announcer Scott Cox, “Yes, these two are really going at it.”
“They’ve both got heavy hands,” said Jacobson. “Now, we know Boomer got so strong from picking turnips back on the farm growing up.” This is a running joke on Jacobson’s part; Hogaboom is a native of a small town on the Canadian prairie, and the announcer frequently claims that he grew up on a turnip farm.
After that, however, Jacobson crossed the line. “Now, we know Jones didn’t grow up on a turnip farm,” the announcer said. (Jones is a native of Chicago.) “So he must have picked it up on the street corner.”
Cox tried to move on, noting that the referees were stepping in to break up the fight.
But Jacobson continued, “It makes sense. Jones is fast and he’s a good fighter. Fighting, running from the cops… those are important skills where he’s from.”
Jacobson’s comments were already attracting negative attention on Twitter while the game was still going on. After the game, a reporter read the remarks to Jones and asked for comment.
“I wish I was surprised,” Jones replied. “Unfortunately, this is what it’s come to in this country. If you’re black and you’re from the inner city, obviously you must have been in a gang. It’s racist garbage, but it’s where we are. Ever since the 2016 election, people in America have felt free to just spout opinions like that.”
Initially, Jacobson defended the quips, saying they were “not racial in any way. The joke was about the fact that [Jones is] from Chicago. Everyone knows there’s a lot of violence and gangs in Chicago. That’s what the joke was about. Hogaboom didn’t really grow up on a turnip farm either, you know.”
But as time went on, the blowback continued to mount. SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell denounced Jacobson’s remarks as “inappropriate and counter to the spirit of inclusiveness we strive for in this league.” Galaxy GM Ace Adams issued an apology to Jones. The radio station that carries Washington’s broadcasts also apologized, and then suspended Jacobson for three weeks.
After the suspension was announced, Jacobson finally expressed regret for his remarks. “Although I didn’t mean to be offensive, I’ve now realized that I was,” the announcer said. “I was wrong to say what I did, and to Ward and anyone else who was offended, I’m sorry.”
Jones responded to Jacobson’s apology with mixed feelings. “Honestly, I believe him when he says he didn’t mean to be offensive,” Jones told reporters. “The thing is, that’s the problem. Not with him, really, but with our society. The fact that you see a black guy from Chicago and your first thought is ‘gang member.’ Because the joke doesn’t work if you don’t expect the audience to make that association too.”