The Edmonton Oilers and many others are rallying around defenceman Ethan Bear, who was the target of numerous racist online comments after his team was swept from the playoffs Monday night.
The Oilers lost game four of their first-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets in triple overtime.
Bear was benched by head coach Dave Tippett after his turnover in the defensive zone led to the tying goal in the third period. He sat out for most of the overtime periods as well.
“I feel sick for him,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said Wednesday. “I’m disappointed for him that he would get this kind of abuse. It’s unacceptable.”
Holland said the 23-year old defenceman worked hard throughout the summer to earn his spot on the team, playing in just his second full National Hockey League season.
“Ethan’s an unbelievable young man, he’s a tremendous role model for all young athletes, especially in the Indigenous community.”
‘It should be called out’
Evan Taypotat, chief of the Kahkewistawahaw First Nation in Saskatchewan, said he has seen the comments about his nephew.
“He’s battled so many obstacles in life just to be where he is today,” Taypotat said. “And for some anonymous trolls to send messages to his inbox, and some of them aren’t even anonymous, there are names attached to the Instagram accounts. But he will not give them a platform, he will not give them a voice for their hatred.”
Others have stepped up to support Bear, who grew up on the Ohapowace Nation in Saskatchewan.
“Ethan Bear is a very good hockey player,” former Oilers captain Andrew Ference said on Twitter. “Lift him up and he will be an integral part of any success the Oilers have in the future.”
Ference spent three years with the Oilers. He said he has met Bear on several occasions and praised him for the work he’s doing with all communities.
He felt compelled to use his platform to call the racism out.
“It’s outrageous that any of this happens,” he said in an interview. “I think even if it’s just a few people, it has a big impact. It only takes a couple of handfuls of those comments to completely destroy somebody.
“It should be confronted, it should be called out. It’s horrible.”
The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Chiefs said it was appalled by the racist comments.
‘Racism is hurtful’
“Our First Nations people are avid fans of hockey and the Edmonton Oilers, and we are most proud of the athletic achievements of our people,” Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker said in a statement. “Ethan has been a gracious ambassador to our youth, and he is very much a part of our communities.
“We all have a responsibility to speak out against racism in any circumstance, and to ask those involved to stop. We are mindful that racism is hurtful, and this has gone on for far too long.”
Holland said a lot more work needs to be done to rid the sport of racism. He said he planned to talk to Bear on Wednesday about what happened.
When asked whether teams or the league should try to ban fans who make racist comments, Holland said, “I want to talk to our PR people to see what we can do as an organization to try and make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”
Bear’s girlfriend, Lenasia Ned, posted her own message of support Tuesday on her personal Facebook page.
“[Ethan] appreciates the love and support from everyone and is thankful for you all,” she wrote.
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