On Thursday afternoon, the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds announced that the team had concluded a drawn-out investigation following racism within the organization.
Despite the many sociocultural advances of 2020 and 2021, humans are still finding ways to demean one another, including doing so by acts of racism. The details of the story out of Seattle are extremely troubling and paint a very grim picture of life as a Black, teenage major-junior hockey player.
“Effective immediately, two players are no longer on the T-Birds roster,” a statement from Thunderbirds general manager Bill La Forge read. “The two players removed from the roster will continue their education and personal growth in this area. We will use this incident to further emphasize that comments of this nature will not be tolerated and further emphasis will be placed on educational programming in this area.”
The two players in question are Brendan Williamson (18) and Kai Uchacz (17).
A detailed report from The Seattle Times indicates the use of a banana and racial slurs from the two forwards against the Thunderbirds’ lone player of colour, Mekai Sanders, in an incident documented by a member of the Thunderbirds’ staff back on March 17.
A deeper look into the racism dates back to last season, as reports indicate that Uchacz has followed similar patterns ever since the 2019-20 season.
After being informed of the racist attacks, La Forge and company opted to immediately suspend Williamson and Uchacz, who served as ‘healthy scratches’ for the team’s first two games of the 2020-21 season, citing the club’s zero-tolerance policy for “comments and actions that are racially insensitive or bullying in nature.”
On Thursday, Williamson and Uchacz were cut from the roster, and sent packing. With the league’s official trade deadline having already passed, the two Canadians will be forced to sit out the remainder of the 2020-21 campaign, or attempt to find another league currently in play that will take them in, baggage and all.
“The Western Hockey League has a zero-tolerance policy for racism, and any other form of abuse, and is committed to providing a safe and positive environment for all players,” the team’s statement continued. “Each year, the WHL delivers extensive Players First educational programs to ensure players and team staff understand the importance of respect and know how to prevent hazing, abuse, harassment, and bullying. All members of the Seattle Thunderbirds completed Respect in Hockey educational programming and Respect in Sport certification, which includes specific programming on racism and diversity, prior to the start of the 2020-21 WHL Regular Season.”
Uchacz is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound centreman from Calgary, AB., who spent the majority of his youth hockey within the Okotoks Oilers AA and AAA programs. Williamson is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound winger from Chilliwack, BC., who played in both the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with Yale Academy and the BC U-18 Hockey League with Fraser Valley.
Should the two be given another opportunity to play hockey, it will definitely come with a hefty price. The Thunderbirds have already provided boundary training for Uchacz and Williamson and have committed to arranging continued education courses for the former WHL players in the field of appropriate conduct.
Having initially just been suspended, the hope was to have the two players return to the roster, but following further conversation with Sanders and fellow teammates and coaches, La Forge and the rest of the Thunderbirds staff determined that the two players had played their final games as members of the organization, much to the relief of their embattled teammates.
Both Williamson and Uchacz have had their names removed from both the Thunderbirds’ and the WHL’s active player websites.
Sanders, 17, is a product of Gig Harbour, WA., and suited up in 24 games for Seattle during the 2019-20 season. He had two goals, three points and six penalty minutes in a limited role. He has dressed in both games for the Thunderbirds this season.