To Many, Smith-Pelly Represents More Than Just a Caps Championship

Posted June 14, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

A day before his 26th birthday, Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly signed autographs at DICKS in Gaithersburg. There were close to 1,000 people there and one thing was apparent, if DSP did not look the way he did, many would feel unwelcome.

Smith-Pelly is one of roughly 30 black NHL players and his presence has made an impact on the African-American community in the DC area. That community was out in full force on Tuesday expressing their appreciation and thankfulness for him.

“If I could change one kid’s life, that would be awesome,” Smith-Pelly said when asked about showing African-American kids there is more than just football and basketball. “I’m trying to be a role model, and hopefully there are kids who grew up like I did.”

Many see Smith-Pelly as the role model he wishes he could be.

“Having someone to look up to, in this sport where it’s mostly white males, having an [African-Canadian] male, step up and be a forefront of the NHL is amazing,” Theo Portee, 19 said. “He’s a great role model for the African-American community, especially the younger [members]. Seeing how most black men play football, basketball, run track, it’s great to see how you can integrate into different sports. It doesn’t matter your skin color, you can do whatever you want to do.”

“When you see someone that looks like you, in a sport, sometimes it makes you want to play that sport,” his mother Laurita added.

“I think he is a great role model, and someone to look up to. There’s not a lot of black players in hockey, so he’s easily someone you can look up to and someone you want to be,” said Kenneth Miles.“If he was around while I was in high school, I definitely would have tried [playing hockey].”

While the season ended with the highest of highs, there was a rather low point in the season for Smith-Pelly that had nothing to do with his the play on the ice. On February 17, in Chicago, a couple of fans by the penalty box chanted “basketball, basketball, basketball!” at him.

“It’s disappointing to hear, when things are said that are just not so nice based on someone’s nationality, their race,” Laurita said.

“When I saw the video, it was very disturbing,” Lamar Thomas, 28 said.

“It’s like they’re telling us, ‘we can’t like what we like, we can’t be into hockey because we’re black,”’ Joy Stewart, 19 said .

“It’s disappointing and it makes me kind of hesitant to openly be a part of the hockey community,” Joy’s 20 year-old sister Naomi said. “Even going to the parade was kind of difficult because it doesn’t feel like there’s any space for people like me.”

Smith-Pelly is not the first, and he likely won’t be the last black hockey player to experience racism, but it is affecting youth too.

“Sometimes people say that black kids shouldn’t play hockey,” Darius Nichols, 11, who has played hockey for the last six years at Ft. Dupont said. “That I shouldn’t be playing for certain teams, or that I’m too aggressive, it’s my race.”

Nichols responds by letting his play do the talking. “I just really play hard, and just try to make them eat their words really. They say stuff about me and it’s not true.”

Many think DSP has already accomplished what he has wanted to, make a lasting impression on people.

“I think it’s big. There are not a lot of African-American players in the sport, just seeing a guy like this play, it kind of gives kids hope. I now know kids who want to play hockey and want to try to be DSP just because they’ve seen him do things [like win the Cup]. It’s bringing a lot of light to the sport, a lot of light to the community. It is great what he’s doing,” Thomas said. “Seeing him step outside of the box and do things that are out of the norm for the African-American community, is kind of a big deal for the community as a whole.”

“It’s a white sport mostly, so it’s really cool to see a black player do so well and get so far. It’s a big deal for people like us just to see people like him. It shows we can do anything and be anywhere,” Joy said.

To Naomi, Smith-Pelly represents one thing: “Equality.” He might not know it, but after Tuesday, it is clear Smith-Pelly’s dream has been accomplished, at least here in the DC area.

Thomas believes wherever the free agent ends up, he will continue to have an impact on the African-American community. “Him playing another year in the league, whether it’s in the nation’s capital, or with any team, it’s still going to be a big deal for the African-American community.”

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