I’m going to start this off with a clip, for context.
No one is born racist. They’re taught to be.— Drew (@DrewMacFarlane) June 2, 2020
Here’s the father of @NYRangers Tony DeAngelo, a player suspended by the OHL twice for using slurs, saying he uses the same slurs his son used “Every day. Every day.”
I actually can’t believe this is real. pic.twitter.com/dseyyUJR2o
Believe it or not, this is from a pre-draft puff piece on Tony DeAngelo, clearly intended to paint the picture of a reformed trouble maker who’s looking to put his history of discriminatory verbal abuse behind him and make good on his considerable talent. You can scroll down to find the full four minute clip, but I’ll be focusing on this snippet for now.
It’s from seven years ago, but you wouldn’t know it from the content. I struggle to think of another scenario where I’d hold an interview from seven years ago against a player’s character, but given this pattern of behaviour has clearly gone unchecked at best and escalated at worst, I feel it’s appropriate. It’s an interesting glimpse at the roots of this debacle.
In the clip, DeAngelo’s father explains away his son’s offensive outburst, directed at a teammate on the Sarnia Sting, by saying he himself would have done the same, that he uses those same slurs “every day” and that it’s rooted in a “South Philly thing”, something the interviewer is happy to promote and play along with throughout the full clip.
“Not that it’s right.”
“Just how I was raised and the things I’m used to from my upbringing.”
“[…] the ‘South Philly thing’, some people just don’t understand. It’s a different way of growing up. It’s not always right, but it is what it is.”
It is what it is.
Tony DeAngelo grew up in New Jersey, in case anyone is wondering, so let’s just cut the runaround bullsh*t and call the ‘South Philly thing’ by its real name: Racism.
This is how it often happens. It’s passed down, willingly, from generation to generation and it’s deeply ingrained from a young age. It’s insidious, and it’s incredibly difficult to undo the damage done. If Tony DeAngelo had genuinely seen the err of his ways and changed his behaviour after these incidents in Junior Hockey, he would have my sympathy. Honest to god, he would. Up to a certain point, we can’t help but inherit what we’ve learned growing up.
But in that clip, you see a prime example of the privilege and lack of accountability that act as fuel to the fires of racism, and a precursor to where DeAngelo finds himself today. It’s part of what allows this kind of behaviour to go unchecked for so long on an individual level.
His father dismisses the severity of he and his son’s actions by attributing it to where he himself grew up. And it’s deemed an acceptable answer.
In the full clip, he actually admits Tony was wrong right before making these statements, in a gold medal-worthy performance of mental gymnastics. The obvious disconnect on display is allowed to go on, unchecked.
“I’m not saying it’s right.”
“It is what it is.”
It’s a South Philly thing.
Obviously it is not, in fact, a South Philly thing, and my god, if any person of colour tried to lean on a defence like that they’d fall flat on their faces and get thrown through the wringer.
But Tony? Tony got drafted in the first round.
Ask yourself, how would you react to a child offering the same response to severe and unacceptable behavior as Tony’s father?
Somewhere along the way, we’ve developed this belief that we’re supposed to reach early adulthood, figure out our views in the process, and then become fully formed based on everything up to that point. Changing our beliefs or personalities in any meaningful way becomes off the table, and it is what it is.
It’s actually a point of pride for some of those I grew up with. “I’m not gonna change who I am.” is a common refrain. And why should you? You perfect little snowflake, you. That terrible behaviour that’s hurting you and those around you? That’s what makes you, “you”.
Just not in the rugged, individualistic way you think it does, and everyone is sick of it so maybe you should cut the sh*t, figure out why you’re doing it and stop.
Learning and evolving doesn’t end when you become an adult. It’s just beginning. To assume that a few years into adulthood we reach a point where we’ve learned all we need to know to develop the personalities & beliefs we’ll have for the rest of our lives is like assuming that once you’ve had your driver’s license for a few years you’re ready to drive a f*cking stock car in the Indy 500.
It’s fundamentally flawed thinking, and the longer it goes unchecked, the worse it gets. That can happen for a variety of reasons, but being White and/or an elite athlete are two near the top of the list.
In reality, the more keen you are to keep learning the more you realize how little you knew in the first place. But you can’t get there if you’re not willing to open that door again.
For meaningful change to come about in the NHL, and society as a whole for that matter, that door can’t be closed. As a species, we’re all about progress when it comes to advancing technology. We embrace it fully, and the door was blown off the hinges long ago in that area. The same applies to the NHL’s efforts in advancing the game.
Why so many of us close the door on equality and compassion, I’ll never know.
Here’s the full pre-draft piece on DeAngelo.
There are many takeaways, but DeAngelo’s acknowledgment that what he did was wrong because “it’s against the league rules” stands out, essentially admitting to the camera that he’s sorry he got punished, not because of what he did.
Notice the angle taken throughout. The interviewer is actually the first to mention the “South Philly” effect, and he frames DeAngelo’s behavior in Junior as being attributable to it, as well as “losing”. Or more specifically, his inability to accept losing. Apparently it’s always been an issue for him. He’s a victim, really.
I know when I lose, sometimes I just start punching small children who aren’t near adults. I call them ‘stragglers’. In the absence of children I usually just go for the smallest, most adorable animal I can find. Or babies. It’s not because I’m a bad guy, I’m just such a winner I lose all control and accountability in the face of defeat. The fact that I end up in handcuffs sometimes is something people should empathize with, really, because it’s rooted in a valuable trait for a professional athlete: the hatred of losing.
Also, that stuff happened yesterday. Morning. Or like, just after noon, anyway. I’m a completely different person today. Please draft me in the first round. You have my word, I won’t be traded twice by the age of 22 and sh*t canned at 25 after my breakout season because my behaviour is so bad that it outweighs what I bring to the ice in a league who’s arm had to be twisted just to do the bare minimum in the face of social justice movements.
The New York Rangers and the NHL have an opportunity to use this situation as a building block toward implementing high standards of equality, accountability and respect for its players to live up to. This can be a teaching moment for hockey culture, and its impact can be far reaching.
A moment to let people in the sport know that being yourself is encouraged for everyone, so long as that doesn’t involve spreading hate or causing harm to others.
It’s time to stop letting athletes off the hook for being terrible, even behind closed doors, and it’s unfortunate it took a semi-public physical altercation with nicest-goalie-in-the-world Alexandar Georgiev for this to be addressed swiftly.
It’s also time White athletes like Tony DeAngelo face the same fallout as everyone else. Because Tony DeAngelo is the symptom of a problem that’s spreading as fast as the disinformation fueling it, and he won’t be the last of his kind in the NHL if appropriate action isn’t taken now.