Racist verbal attacks from junior hockey fans recalled by former Kelowna Rocket - InfoNews

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Racist verbal attacks from junior hockey fans recalled by former Kelowna Rocket

A scene from the Black Lives Matter protest in Kamloops, June 4.
Image Credit: Brie Welton
June 07, 2020 - 12:45 PM

Michael Herringer became very familiar with racial slurs during his time as a Kelowna Rocket, but that openly hateful response to the colour of his skin is just one way he's been defined by race.

"I'd get every kind of racist remark you could imagine from fans almost every time we'd play anywhere other than Kelowna, Herringer, who played with the Rockets from 2014 to 2017, wrote in an Instagram post written June 6.

"Opposing fans would yell at everyone on my team in a nonracist form so I figured the special comments reserved for me weren't that outside the norm and something I got really good at blocking out daily. But there is something really wrong with a 17-year-old boy playing the sport he loves  being singled out and openly told by an adult to go back to the plantation or that 'my people' know nothing about hockey and I should stick to basketball all or cotton picking."

Herringer wrote that what was worse, is that he'd be embarrassed about it. Embarrassed, that something completely out of his control was causing a scene.

"I'd just hope my coaches or teammates wouldn't hear so they wouldn't think any differently of me," he wrote.


Just my thoughts and experiences. Read if you wana ??

A post shared by Michael Herringer (@michaelherringer) on

"I just wanted to fit in. I know many other coloured athletes who endured the same and worse."

This week Canadian black athletes including from Fergie Jenkins,  Canada's first — and for a long time only — player in baseball's Hall of Fame and the 2003 world hurdles champion Perdita Felicien spoke out about the persistent racism that faces black Canadians.

In an interview with CP, Felicien said that sports can often gloss over the issues that many deal with daily and create a facade "that everything is fine."

Athletes and teams use analogies: On the field we're all the same. We go to battle for each other. We work together as a team.

"Great," she said. "But the truth is, it's this false comfort for a lot of us, because when you leave that arena, that track, that Olympic stadium, it's not equal. These athletes have to go out into the real world. These athletes are still facing these problems and issues."

For Herringer, the issues he faced were also specific to small-town B.C., where the ethnic makeup of communities is limited. In that environment, racism was different but no less scarring.

"Growing up an adopted black kid in Courtenay, B.C., I was the obvious minority everywhere I went — school, soccer, hockey, birthday parties.

As a young kid I didn't really understand that people saw me differently," he wrote.

"In my mind, I was just another kid on the hockey team or another kid in the Grade 2 class photo. I would forget I was the black kid until a coach, teammate, classmate or parent of a friend would point out how I stood out in a photo, how it was weird that a black kid liked country music, or they would refer to me as the "black goalie from Courtenay."

He was often mistaken for his brother who is two years older than me and six inches shorter and who he said he looks nothing like.

"All of that made me feel faceless and that I wasn't anything more than the colour of my skin. It's something as a kid and through my teen years I'd just push aside or laugh off because I feared if I spoke up or told others how seemingly harmless remarks like that made me feel, that it would make them uncomfortable or feel bad," he wrote.

He said that he's never faced any issue with police, but fears he one day will.

"I can't imagine how I'll explain to my kids one day that the people whose job it is to keep you safe might harm you because of the way you look, through no fault of your own," he wrote.

The Black Lives Matter movement has seen thousands of people across Canada, the United States and the world join together following the death of George Floyd, a Black man died in police custody after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck.

Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minn., was only the latest in a number of cases of Black men dying while in police custody.

—With files from Canadian Press

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