There’s a lot more to unpack in the saga of Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters, accused of uttering racist remarks by former player Akim Aliu.
On Wednesday night, Peters made his first public statement regarding the matter. He issued a letter to Calgary general manager Brad Treliving and sent a copy of it to Sportsnet correspondent Eric Francis.
“Please accept this as a sincere apology to you, and the entire Calgary Flames organization, for offensive language I used in a professional setting a decade ago,” said Peters.
“The statement was made in a moment of frustration and does not reflect my personal values,” he goes on to say. “After the incident, I was rightfully challenged about my use of language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team. I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words.”
Peters goes on to state that he’s aware there is “no excuse for language that is offensive.”
“I am truly sorry,” he said. “I accept the reality of my actions. I do believe that we must strive to act with integrity, and to take accountability for what we say and do. This letter is intended to do exactly that; I hope it is accepted as intended.”
“This letter tonight is part of this we’ll obviously review. And I’m hopeful we’ll have an update (Thursday),” said Treliving. “I’m always hesitant to put timelines. But I just hope people can appreciate we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure we do this right and get all the information we can.”
There is no question that this matter is shrouded in legal minutiae, which may explain the non-specifics of Peters’ letter. Not only does he not mention Aliu by name, he does not speak to the nature of his comments – only to state they were “offensive.”
This story has become part of a broader narrative unfolding across the NHL this season, with more former players coming to the fore with stories of questionable conduct from various figures of the game. While an incident reported between former Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and current Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner was the first to come to light, the Aliu situation was more severe and astonishing.
And as mentioned yesterday, former Carolina Hurricane Michal Jordán alleged physical abuse at the hands of Peters.
Current Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, in what really should be viewed as a remarkable statement, said that Jordán’s account “for sure happened.” Brind’Amour was an assistant under Peters at the time and added that he was proud of his players and the team’s support staff for how it was handled.
“I hope that these abusers are uneasy today, have a hard time sleeping,” said former NHLer Daniel Carcillo. “I hope that some of them find the courage to not wait until they’re called out but just come out right now.”
Aliu, as has been argued by the National Post‘s Chris Selley, seems an apt leader for this painful but necessary process. A hyped prospect in 2005 with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, he was subjected to one of the more infamous hazing incidents in minor hockey lore. The 16-year-old, along with other rookies, were told to strip naked and stuff themselves into the washroom on the team bus. Aliu didn’t go along with it and was subsequently treated to a pattern of revenge, most notably when Steve Downie crosschecked him in the face during practice and knocked out a few teeth.
The drama that followed was all too familiar for those knowledgeable of the world of Canadian junior hockey and that betrays what goes on in many, many levels of hockey today – even the NHL level. There will be apologists and defenders of this noxious part of hockey culture. There always are. There were, and likely are, those who advocate playing hockey without a helmet too. That doesn’t make them right.
And that brings us back to Peters, who by Aliu’s account and by Brind’Amour’s corroboration of other accounts, has also been part of a pattern of aggression and abuse as a head coach – one story of what could be many to unfold in the coming weeks.
Photo credit: NHL