Akim Aliu’s November comments about past n-word usage from Bill Peters were a big part (along with stories of physical abuse from other players who played for Peters) of Peters’ resignation as the head coach of the Calgary Flames, but they were only one part of a wider discussion that’s sprung up about coaches’ and staffers’ behaviors and about racism and physical abuse in hockey. Current Chicago Blackhawks’ assistant coach Marc Crawford is under investigation by the team over past claims of physical abuse, while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement about unacceptable content, clubs’ duty to notify the league, and more. And the Dallas Stars suddenly fired head coach Jim Montgomery Tuesday for “a material act of unprofessionalism,” although they haven’t released much on just what that meant. With all this going on, Aliu again wound up in the center of the news cycle thanks to an article by Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal about racism in hockey, which included Aliu relaying the story and photo of how Colorado Eagles equipment manager Tony Deynzer put on blackface and wore a wig and a jersey to dress up as Aliu for a team Halloween party in 2011:
Tony Deynzer, an employee of the Colorado Eagles who is still with the team, showed up to the team Halloween party dressed as Akim Aliu wearing a custom jersey with his nickname. Akim was told to arrive to the party late. They all set him up and then laughed about it. https://t.co/oJoOaw3Z8W pic.twitter.com/Nj8imXDYEq
— Master Shake (@cowgirl_bebop) December 11, 2019
The Eagles (a current AHL team based in Loveland, Colorado and affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, but a Central Hockey League team from 2003-11 and an East Coast Hockey League team from 2011-2018, including during this incident) have since placed Deynzer on administrative leave (as reported by Ryan Clark of The Athletic) and put out an apology to Aliu:
An open apology from the Colorado Eagles to Akim Aliu (@Dreamer_Aliu78) pic.twitter.com/HCGlzItFDR
— Colorado Eagles (@ColoradoEagles) December 11, 2019
We’ll see if anything further comes from this, but this is certainly another bad look for hockey. And it’s not ancient history, with this happening within the decade. Hopefully sports organizations can learn from these kinds of incidents and avoid repeating them.
Update: this was at a Halloween party, not a Christmas party. We apologize for the initial incorrect identification.