NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban on Sunday night addressed an incident involving a racist taunt aimed at his brother, Jordan Subban, in a minor-league game Saturday in Florida.
The East Coast Hockey League indefinitely suspended Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta, pending a hearing for what Jordan Subban, a South Carolina Stingrays defenseman who is Black, said was a racist taunt. The Icemen later announced they released Panetta.
P.K. Subban, in his 13th NHL season, spoke with reporters following the Devils’ 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He had posted a series of social-media messages earlier in the day regarding the incident, but his postgame news conference featured his first comments in-person.
“I didn’t sleep much,” he said, referring to Saturday night when he heard the news after the Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 7-4, in Newark. “Sheer disappointment. It’s distasteful. There is no room for it in our game. I’m embarrassed because our game is better than this.”
The ECHL game was in overtime when South Carolina’s Andrew Cherniwchan collided with Jacksonville goalie Justin Kapelmaster, sparking a skirmish between the teams. According to Jordan Subban, he tried to engage Panetta in a fight. Panetta responded by allegedly taunting Jordan Subban.
“As soon as I began to turn my back, he started making monkey gestures at me, so I punched him in the face multiple times and he turtled like the coward he is,” Jordan Subban tweeted.
Stingrays team president Rob Concannon said in a statement that his organization was “appalled by the incident.”
The two fought while surrounded by players from both teams. They received major penalties and misconduct penalties that sent them to their locker rooms. Jordan Subban’s teammate Nico Blachman left the Stingrays bench to punch Panetta and was also given a game misconduct.
Jacksonville won the game 1-0 on an overtime power-play goal. The Icemen are a minor league affiliate of the New York Rangers. The Stingrays are an affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
“Our organization stands in support of our friend and teammate, Jordan, as well as all other players who continue to deal with racism and discrimination,” Concannon said. “This behavior is unacceptable and has to stop.”
P.K. Subban concurred. Speaking emotionally after playing 22 minutes in the Devils’ home loss, the veteran defenseman called for change, and hoped the incident might be enough to spur true change.
“I’d rather people focus on how we can change it and make it better, so the next kid that looks like P.K. Subban or Jordan Subban doesn’t have to go through this,” he said.
P.K. Subban, who has another brother in the sport, Malcolm Subban, a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres, said he had a conversation this morning with his family.
“What I think about is the great people and the great things in our game that I love,” he said. “But the unfortunate thing isn’t just the incident. The unfortunate thing is how many kids deal with this every day and it doesn’t come to light.”
The Subbans grew up playing the game in Toronto. P.K. is 32 years old, Malcolm is 28 and Jordan is 26.
“I think the biggest thing that I can say about our family, is that we don’t need the pity from anyone. I didn’t need it when I was five years old, I didn’t need it when I was 10 years old, I didn’t need it when I played junior hockey, and my brothers didn’t need it,” P.K. Subban said.
“We don’t need anyone’s pity. No one felt sorry for us when we went through our experiences growing up. We don’t expect anyone to feel sorry, and we don’t expect anyone to really understand that isn’t Black. If you’re not Black, you’re not going to understand this, and that’s OK.”
Panetta posted a video on Twitter on Sunday, with a tweet that said “racism has no place in this world and no place in the game we love.” Panetta said he told Jordan Subban that, “You’re only tough when the refs get involved,” and then “did a tough-guy bodybuilder-like gesture toward him” that Panetta said he has made to other players in other games.
“My actions toward Jordan were not because of race, and were not intended as a racial gesture. I did not contemplate at the time that it would be received as a racial gesture, and I attempted to convey this to Jordan when we were sent to the dressing room during the game,” he said.
“I see now from Jordan’s reaction that he and others certainly viewed it as a racial gesture, and that my actions have caused a great deal of anger … I want to express to everyone, especially Jordan, that my actions were not racially motivated at all, and I sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering and anger that my actions have caused him, his family and everyone who has been hurt by this,” Panetta added.
The incident occurred one day after the American Hockey League suspended San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik for 30 games after he made a racist gesture toward Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners in a Jan. 12 game. Hrabik imitated the movements of a monkey in a taunt that targeted Imama, who is Black.
Hrabik will have the option to take part in training with the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee, for which P.K. Subban is a co-chair, to reduce his suspension. He can apply to the AHL for reinstatement after missing 21 games, and a decision will be “based on an evaluation of his progress in the necessary education and training” with the Player Inclusion Committee.
Both incidents continue a trend of racist taunts in professional hockey. In 2021, Andrei Deniskin of the Ukrainian Hockey League pantomimed peeling and eating a banana toward Jalen Smereck, who is Black. Deniskin was suspended 13 games.
Smereck reacted to the Malcolm Subban incident on Instagram, writing: “It’s the first month of 2022 and there has already been two racial gestures in the second and third highest leagues in North America. Just think about how many are happening at the youth level to young kids that we don’t see or ever know about, because the game isn’t being recorded.”
And P.K. Subban added to that thought.
“For us, this is life. This is life for us, and that’s what is sad,” he said. “This is life for people who look like me who have gone through the game of hockey. And that’s part of the history, whether we like it or not.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.