Recent viral stories of young athletes facing racism shows what can happen when others speak up

Recent viral stories of young athletes facing racism shows what can happen when others speak up
The entire Metro Maple Leafs team plastered their gear, and parents plastered their jackets, with this sticker after their only black player, Divyne Apollon II, was targeted with racial slurs and monkey sounds at a game in suburban Washington. (Tammi Lynch / The Washington Post)

It has been well documented that hate incidents have skyrocketed in the era of President Donald Trump, whose own vitriol has emboldened others to comfortably spew their racist beliefs as well. There is no shortage of viral videos of immigrants taunted in checkout lines or African Americans enduring derogatory name-calling or other ill treatment while minding their own business or performing mundane daily activities — whether it’s two African-American men waiting in a Philadelphia Starbucks for a business meeting or a black Yale graduate student taking a nap in a dormitory common room.

We can only do so much to stop others intent on belittling people they don’t even know simply because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background.


But we have a lot of power in how we respond.

Take two recent high profile incidents of student athletes — one in New Jersey and the other in Maryland.

Young Divyne Apollon II, the only black player on his Anne Arundel County-based hockey team, was recently bombarded with monkey sounds and called the n-word by players of an opposing team, columnist Petula Dvorak recently reported in The Washington Post. “Get off the ice!” they chanted. “Go play basketball!” As if only white players are allowed to play hockey.

The coaches did nothing. The referees did nothing. Perhaps they didn’t know what was going on, some suggested. But that seems hard to believe. His teammates on the Metro Maple Leafs, a travel hockey team based in Odenton, were the only ones as emboldened as the racists, erupting in anger and starting an all out brawl in defense of their teammate.

In contrast, no one came to the aid of a high school wrestler in New Jersey when he was forced by a referee to have his dreadlocks cut off before being allowed to participate in a match. The coaches of 16-year-old Andrew Johnson, a junior on the Buena Regional High School wrestling team in Atlantic County, said nothing and neither did his teammates as a video shows a second wrestling official roughly chopping off his locks. The humiliation of the incident was visible after he won the match. Johnson brushed away the referee who ordered the chopping as he tried to raise his hand in victory. (The referee, who had also once called a fellow referee the n-word, was eventually removed from his post, but not before the damage was done.)

Support and compassion for one player. Abandonment and disregard for another.

Unfortunately, indifference is more the norm in most racial matters. African Americans endure racism often, but they learn to suck it up or deal with it on their own and among each other. Many people found it hard to believe the extent of racism until viral videos made it more visible.

For many white people, it is too easy to maintain an out of sight, out of mind attitude when it comes to issues of race. Although they may care and think racial injustice is wrong, they may do no more than post a news story on social media. During the take a knee movement in the NFL, it was mostly African American players willing to kneel in support of Colin Kaepernick and his cause. The feminist movement is often criticized for not taking into account the unique needs of African American women. Where have the women’s rights organizations been when Serena Williams has endured various acts of racism and sexism from tennis organizations, including criticism of her athletic attire?

The same is seen in other movements. For instance, there were few men in the crowd of women donning pussy hats at the Women’s March two years ago. Why weren’t they standing up for the rights of their wives, daughters and nieces?

Perhaps we all need to learn a lesson from the players on the Metro Maple Leafs hockey team about taking a stand on issues that we think our wrong, even if they don’t directly impact our own interests. Our collective voices speak louder than we do individually.

Especially when it involves young adults and teenagers who may not yet have found the voice or courage to stand up for themselves. Divyne Apollon had suffered through the harassment, unsuccessfully hoping responsible adults would step in.

Now, there is a small movement to stop racism in the hockey league in which Mr. Apollon plays.

A mother of one of his fellow players designed a logo crossing out the word racism with a hockey stick, Ms. Dvorak reported. She turned the logo into a sticker that the players put on their hockey sticks and parents wear to games.

Thanks to his teammates’ support, Mr. Apollon is no longer suffering alone. No one else should have to either.