When Devante Smith-Pelly and John Carlson heard about Divyne Apollon II, the 13-year-old defenseman for the Odenton-based Metro Maple Leafs who has faced racist taunts and chants of “Go play basketball!” this season, the Washington Capitals teammates decided to invite Apollon and his entire team to a future game.
“For me to meet [Divyne] and look him in the face as someone who’s gone through it and can talk to him and share my experience is important to me,” the 26-year-old Smith-Pelly, who has embraced being a role model for black kids who follow and play hockey, told Taryn Bray of WashingtonCaps.com. “It’s a pretty gross thing to be happening."
"I think you feel for Divyne and what he has to go through, and as a hockey player I think we all stand up for each other,” Carlson said. “I just think it’s a good thing to do to show him we’re all with him.”
At a recent tournament involving the Maple Leafs, the opposing team’s coach and referees did nothing to quell the racial animosity, including monkey sounds, directed at Apollon when he was on the ice.
“Normally, stuff like that doesn’t happen directly to my face,” Apollon told The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak. “But it was there.”
Apollon’s teammates yelled at the other team and started a brawl at the end of the third period that ultimately resulted in Apollon being suspended for the remainder of the tournament. His teammates wore stickers featuring an anti-racism logo designed by a Maple Leafs player’s mom on their gear during their next game.
“I was a little shocked by all the support,” Apollon said afterward.
In their surprise video message personally inviting the Maple Leafs to Monday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, which the Maple Leafs' coach showed to his players on Tuesday night, Smith-Pelly and Carlson praised Apollon’s teammates for coming to his defense.
"Hey Metro Maple Leafs, we heard about the unfortunate incidents that have been taking place with Divyne, but we were so happy to see your team stand up to defend and support each other,” Smith-Pelly said in the video.
“To show our support and to reward you all for showing the true meaning of a hockey family, we would like to invite your entire team to the game on Jan. 14,” Carlson said.
The Capitals provided the Metro Maple Leafs 60 tickets to Monday’s game, after which the team will have the chance to meet with Capitals players.