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NHL condemns ‘unacceptable, reprehensible behavior’ of ejected Blackhawks fans

Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly confronts fans from the penalty box during the third period of Saturday's games. The fans were ejected for racist taunts. (AP Photo)

The NHL condemned the actions of four fans at Saturday’s Blackhawks game who were ejected during the third period for directing racial taunts at Washington Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly.

The fans chanted “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black, while he was in the penalty box. Smith-Pelly got up and confronted the fans through the glass. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called the fans’ comments “unacceptable and reprehensible behavior” in a statement.

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“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games,” Bettman said. “The league will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment — free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions, and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

The Hawks released a statement Saturday night apologizing to Smith-Pelly and the Capitals for the fans’ “harmful” comments. The league statement took it a step further, describing the fans’ actions as “racial taunts and abuse.” The Capitals said they “extend their appreciation to the Blackhawks organization and the United Center security for swiftly removing the fans from the game.”

February is Hockey Is For Everyone month in the NHL, a league-wide initiative to encourage inclusiveness for fans and players of all backgrounds, races, religions and sexual orientations. There are about 30 black players in the NHL, including the Hawks’ Anthony Duclair.

“Hockey is for everyone,” Ducks forward JT Brown tweeted. “If you think black athletes should only play basketball, [then] you clearly don’t know much about sports.”