It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the image of the National Hockey League. First, long time Hockey Night in Canada commentator and former Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry was fired after refusing to apologize for ugly on air comments he made questioning the loyalty of Canadian immigrants. Then just as the furor over Cherry’s comments was dying down, an even worse controversy erupted.
This one involved the current coach of a successful team. Bill Peters was in his second season as head coach of the Calgary Flames. They were regarded both this season and last as Stanley Cup contenders. But questions of team performance were quickly forgotten as word surfaced of allegations Peters had previously directed racial slurs towards a Black player.
Former NHL player Akim Aliu said on Twitter that Peters had used racist language towards him multiple times when both were in the minor leagues. This occurred in the 2009-10 season. Two other former team members corroborated his story. Peters confirmed the incidents happened and sent a letter of apology to the Calgary front office. The team subsequently investigated the incidents.
Though Aliu was initially reluctant to discuss details of a decades old situation, he later said he felt it definitely hurt his career. But the Aliu incident subsequently proved not to be the only instance of past indefensible conduct by Peters. The 53-year-old formerly coached the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-18. Former Hurricanes defenseman Michael Jordan said Peters physically assaulted players. This claim was later verified by current Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, an assistant at the time under Peters. Why this wasn’t initially reported is an embarrassing unanswered question for the league, and the Aliu allegations are equally sordid.
Peters officially resigned as the Flames head coach last Thursday. The Flames general manager Brad Treliving said Peters had voluntarily resigned. He added the team would be giving the results of its investigation into Peters’ past conduct to the league. The NHL also faced questions about why then Hurricanes general manager Rob Francis handled the Peters situation without alerting the league. Even more troubling is the fact Francis is currently general manager of the expansion franchise in Seattle, which is slated to begin play in the 2021-22 season. How the league handles these issues and addresses these controversies moving forward will be quite instructive.