Canada's Jacob Panetta suspended by ECHL, cut from team for apparent racist gesture

·5 min read
The ECHL has suspended defenceman Jacob Panetta, left, indefinitely after fellow Canadian player Jordan Subban of South Carolina Stingrays accused him of making a monkey gesture during Saturday's game in Jacksonville, Fla. On Sunday, the Icemen released Panetta. (Submitted by Andrew Fielder/sports photographer/CP/File - image credit)
The ECHL has suspended defenceman Jacob Panetta, left, indefinitely after fellow Canadian player Jordan Subban of South Carolina Stingrays accused him of making a monkey gesture during Saturday's game in Jacksonville, Fla. On Sunday, the Icemen released Panetta. (Submitted by Andrew Fielder/sports photographer/CP/File - image credit)

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The ECHL acted swiftly on Sunday, suspending defenceman Jacob Panetta indefinitely pending a hearing, for an apparent racist gesture toward opponent and fellow Canadian Jordan Subban of the South Carolina Stingrays during Saturday night's game.

Jacksonville Icemen later released Panetta, a 26-year-old from Belleville, Ont., who was in his second season with the team.

"To be clear, our core values as an ownership group include … zero tolerance for racism or any other forms of hate against any group," Icemen chief executive officer Andy Kaufmann said in a statement. "We apologize to anyone who was offended and look forward to beginning the process of healing together as one."

Video of the incident 23 seconds into overtime in the Florida city shows Panetta appearing to raise his arms toward his side while looking at Subban, also a defenceman and a Toronto native.

According to the Florida-Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville, the game report indicates the officiating crew assessed two game misconduct penalties to Panetta for continuing an altercation and for "inciting," under ECHL Rule 75.5, which applies to "obscene gestures on the ice or anywhere in the rink before, during or after the game."

After the game, Subban accused Panetta of making a monkey gesture.

His older brother P.K. Subban, an NHL defenceman with New Jersey Devils, took to Twitter to react to the incident at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

"We all know what's ok and what's not," the elder Subban wrote. "Even your own teammates wanted to see you get your clock cleaned. This happens a lot and it never gets exposed in the lower leagues. One thing that I love about this is Jordan's teammates standing in there and showing support. Love that."

Jordan Subban, also 26, further shared some thoughts on social media.

"More like [Panetta] was too much of a coward to fight me and 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," Subban wrote on his Twitter account.

Panetta apologizes, says gesture not intended to be racist

Later on Sunday, Panetta posted a video on his Instagram page to apologize and address the situation.

"I want to express to everyone, and especially Jordan, that my actions were not racially motivated at all," he said. "I sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering and anger my actions have caused him, his family, and everyone who is hurt by this.

"However unintentional my actions were, I acknowledge the impact of my gesture and [I] will commit to better understand the impact going forward."

WATCH | Jacob Panetta cut from team after apparent racist gesture:

He explained that they were "talking in a heated manner" when a referee stepped in between them and says to have told Subban that, "you're only tough once the refs get involved."

Panetta then admitted to making the gesture referring to it as a "tough guy, bodybuilder-like gesture," which he claims to have done in past games to "non-racialized players" during on-ice confrontations.

He also mentioned that he attempted to let Subban know that it wasn't his intention for it to be a racist gesture when both players were sent to their respective dressing rooms.

Panetta added that he intends to participate in the ECHL's investigation of the situation and that he would reach out to Subban and his family to "express his regret."

'Suspend that kid for life'

"When is this ever gonna end … suspend that kid for life," retired NHL player Georges Laraque, an inspirational figure in the effort to rid hockey of racism, wrote on Twitter Sunday before speaking with CBC News Network.

WATCH | Laraque says the ECHL is under pressure to mete out appropriate punishment:

Jacksonville currently has no Black players on its active roster after goalie Charles Williams was summoned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League earlier this month.

Last September, American defenceman Jalen Smereck was the target of a racist taunt during a Ukrainian Hockey League game last September when an opponent mimed peeling a banana and eating it. Smereck, who is Black, later reached a "mutual agreement" with HC Donbass to terminate his contract, according to the team.

Smereck also shared his thoughts of Saturday's occurrence on social media.

On Friday, the AHL barred San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik for 30 games following a racial gesture toward another player earlier this month.

Earlier in the week, Boston Bruins retired the No. 22 jersey of 86-year-old Fredericton native Willie O'Ree, the first Black player to appear in an NHL game well known for trying to combat racism that still exists in the league.

The ECHL, formerly called the East Coast Hockey League, is a mid-level professional loop comprising 25 American teams and two in Canada — the St. John's-based Newfoundland Growlers and Trois-Rivières Lions in Quebec.

WATCH | Former NHLers discuss continued issues with racism in hockey:

The longest suspension in Icemen history is 16 games, according to the Times-Union. It was handed to Emerson Clark in January 2020 for physical abuse of an on-ice official.

The Icemen said the organization is co-operating with the ECHL's review of the incident.

"As an organization, our fans, partners, and sponsors know our core values and we intend to make comments and decisions after completion of league review," the team said in a statement.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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