OMHA under fire following suspension over racial slur

By Lee Griffi
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette

The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) is coming under criticism from a Wilmot Township coach and the mother of a player who was suspended after being on the receiving end of a racial slur.

16-year-old JJ Jacobs, a member of the New Hamburg Junior Firebirds U18 team, received a seven-game suspension from the OMHA for his part in a verbal altercation in a game on March 7. 

“JJ told us that the player said, ‘Good job, little Black boy,’ and then the N-word,” said the team’s head coach, Zach Mark. “JJ said he called the other player a racist and also used profanity. The team appealed the suspension and after a 14-day waiting period it was reduced to three meaning Jacobs missed a season-ending tournament in Whitby where his teammates battled for an Ontario championship.” 

Mark added the suspension doesn’t make sense. 

“Why are you holding a racist comment to the same standard as calling someone racist? We were handed the news (of the reduced suspension) after 14 days at 2:30 p.m. on a Thursday when it’s Good Friday the next day and we are playing at 11 in the morning. It’s tough.”

Mark explained there were about half-dozen instances where Jacobs was subjected to racist remarks during the season that were reported to the on-ice officials. Hockey Canada protocol states that referees must inform both coaches of any report made during the game and make a note of it on the electronic game sheet. Mark said he has no idea if that due diligence was completed. In this instance, the referees did not hear either player’s remarks, but a report was made to the OMHA. Jacobs provided a written report to the association but was never contacted for an in-person or telephone interview afterward.

Mark explained there is no room in the game for racism and wants it cleaned up for good. 

“I feel for him. It’s not the first time he’s dealt with it this season. We are playing a lot of small-town teams where you don’t see as much diversity as you do when you play the Oakvilles and Burlingtons. I see it wear on him game by game and day by day whether it’s at school or on the ice. There is no place for this in hockey. We want to promote inclusivity and diversity and make the game a safe and fun place. It’s one of the best sports around and for people to still have to be dealing with this in 2024 is insane.” 

He added the OMHA is showing a lack of leadership to eliminate racism from the game. 

“We have lost so much respect and trust for people who are in a position of power and could be doing something about it but choose not to.”      

Jacobs has decided not to speak publicly at this time, but his mother, Patti Jacobs, wants to hold the OMHA accountable for their actions. 

“I am really hoping someone will step up and take ownership, admit they did wrong and apologize. To this point, we haven’t heard anything from them at all which I find sad.” 

She also wants to bring awareness that racism is still happening in hockey and likely in other sports. 

“We are hoping this gets the word out. We can only hope coaches will have conversations with their teams at the beginning of every season to express this is wrong.”

Patti Jacobs said it was unfortunate her son missed the weekend tournament, something that had an impact on the team. 

“It put a damper on what should have been a pretty exciting weekend for these boys who had a pretty historic season. It was probably one of the worst weekends of his life. He was devastated. It broke our hearts to sit there at each game and watch him stand at the boards while his team went out and played for him.” 

Had Hew Hamburg won their third game of the tournament on Saturday, JJ Jacobs would have been able to play in the next game. They dropped a 3-2 decision to the Quinte West Golden Hawks ending the Junior Firebirds season.

JJ Jacobs missed the previous three seasons of hockey due to a heart issue and during that time decided to coach AAA hockey in Kitchener. Patti Jacobs said her son wants to send positive messages to his players. “He wants these kids to feel protected and comfortable with speaking out and not be afraid that if they say something they will be penalized. That is the unfairness we are seeing.”