‘Let’s make this a teaching moment’: Manotick mom responds after son called racial slur
Salima Ismail says she never expected to hear her son say the “n-word” and was shocked when it came out of his mouth Sunday evening on the way home from a hockey tournament.
“We had just pulled onto the 417,” Ismail told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll, “And I looked back at him and said, ‘Ayan, you can never say that word again’ and he said, ‘I didn’t say it, Mommy. What does it mean?’”
Ismail said she had no idea until the family was on the way home from the tournament in Casselman that another player on an opposing team had used the word to describe her 11-year-old son. She said he had never heard it before.
“He thought maybe it’s something they call a goalie,” she said. “So now, I’m having to explain to my son what the N-word means. It was so surreal for me. I was so mad.”
The news came on the heels of what was otherwise a happy event. Ayan’s team, the Ottawa Southend Snipers, had won a bronze medal and he was named MVP.
“The whole way home he was asking ‘why would they say that to me?’” Ismail said. “I had to tell my kid, “Ayan, I’m really sorry, but you’re a visible minority.’ That’s the conversation we ended up having. He’s never had to have anything like that explained to him.”
Ismail said she was so sick upon hearing this had happened that she had to pull over on the 417 to process it and have the conversation with her son.
“I’ve lived in Ottawa for 46 years,” she said. “I have never heard that word in reference to me. I don’t even know how that word is still out there.”
Ismail said she spoke to Ayan’s coach Sunday night, who said he’d take care of it. When she didn’t hear back about a resolution on Monday, she took her experience to Facebook. By Monday evening, she said the president of her son’s hockey association asked her to take the post down, saying the opposing team’s hockey association had been made aware and they were working on a resolution. Ismail agreed and put up a new post, thanking people for their support.
“The coach of the Metcalfe Jets messaged me and said he was so embarrassed,” Ismail told CFRA in a follow-up interview. “He was just beside himself. He said they were going to talk to the kids and let them know it was unacceptable.”
Ismail said she asked Ayan what he wanted, and he told her he wanted the other team to learn why what they did was wrong. So, they recorded a video and put it on YouTube, titled “My experience with racial slurs.” In it, Ayan describes what happened, how he felt, and what lessons can be taken from the experience.
“If you lose, lose gracefully; if you win, win gracefully,” Ayan said in the video. “Your coaches say, in line you shake hands, be nice, and say good game, even if you lost.”
Ismail said the line-up and handshake at the end of each game is one of her favourite parts of the hockey culture and she hopes it continues to be positive for everyone.
“I love it. Ayan’s a goalie so he goes right to the front of the line and he fist-bumps everybody,” she said. “It’s just a beautiful culture and why should two or three kids ruin that?”
Ismail said she was told the player who used the slur could face suspension. If no one admits fault, the whole team could be suspended.
But she said her son was more forgiving.
“Ayan said, ‘I don’t want anybody to get suspended. We all love playing hockey. I just want you to tell the coach to teach them, when they go in the line, what to say,’” she said. “He told me no one cares who’s behind the mask, they all just want to play hockey.”
A statement on the Metcalfe Jets’ website, dated Nov. 19, addresses player conduct.
“The Metcalfe District Hockey Association is committed to making hockey fun, safe and inclusive,” the statement says. “Any complaints regarding the conduct of our players will be thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action taken as required.”
Ismail said she doesn’t know yet exactly what discipline may be supplied, but she hopes the issue is taken seriously.
“It’s not a nice word to use and that kid has to know it’s not okay,” she said.
But she added there is a silver lining here.
“It’s a teaching moment. Let’s learn something from this. We call them out, and now let’s move on.”