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‘Unacceptable and disgusting’: Support pours in for Oilers’ Bear after alleged racist social media comments

Last Updated May 26, 2021 at 7:24 pm MDT

NHL profile photo on Edmonton Oilers player Ethan Bear at a game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alta. on March 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Larry MacDougal

EDMONTON (CityNews) — Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear has allegedly been receiving racist messages on his social media following Edmonton’s first-round playoff loss to the Winnipeg Jets this week.

In a social media post, Bear’s girlfriend Lenasia Ned says the Oilers player, who is Indigenous, has been receiving hateful, racist messages by fans.

Fans are apparently blaming Bear, who made a mistake in Edmonton’s triple overtime loss in Game 4, for the Oilers’ four-game sweep in the playoffs.

“Ethan has received numerous racist messages and comments,” wrote Ned in a message posted to her Facebook and Instagram. “To hide behind a screen is cowardly. But to use stereotypes against him as an Indigenous person is dehumanizing and awful!!

“We will not be silenced. We will not except (sic) this behaviour. It’s 2021 we are all equal and this needs to stop.”
Many of the replies to the initial post were overwhelmingly positive. Ned said Bear appreciates the love and support from everyone else.

“Ethan has broken countless barriers as an Indigenous man to make it to the NHL,” she wrote. “He is human. We understand there is criticism but there is no room for racism.”

Bear, with Ned at his side, addressed the situation with a statement in a two-minute video posted to social media on Wednesday.

“I know this doesn’t represent all Oilers fans or hockey fans, and I greatly appreciate your support and love during this time. I’m here to stand up to this behaviour, to these comments. I’m proud of where I come from, I’m proud to be from Ochapowace first nation. I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m doing this for all people of colour, I’m doing this for the next generation, to help make change to love one another, to support one another, to be kind to each other. There’s no place for racism in our communities, in sports or our workplace.

“I call on all of us to make change and end racism.”

The Oilers followed Bear with their own statement.

“The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club is equally disappointed in these disgusting, cowardly and racist remarks. While we have witnessed progress in the area of equality and inclusion, this reprehensible behaviour demonstrates we still have significant work to do.

“We call upon everyone in Oil Country to stand up to racism, call out hatred and do their part in making our community one of acceptance, inclusion and respect.”

The NHL also released a statement on Twitter later Wednesday.

“Ethan Bear represents both our game and his Indigenous heritage with dignity and pride,” the NHL said. “He, and all people from Indigenous backgrounds, deserve to feel empowered and respected on and off the ice. We stand with Ethan and his family in denouncing hate.”

Oilers GM Ken Holland addressed the alleged incident in his year-end media availability on Wednesday, saying he would reach out to Bear to offer any support needed.

“It’s totally unacceptable and disgusting,” said Holland.

The GM calls Bear an “unbelievable young man.”

“He’s a tremendous role model for all young athletes, especially in the Indigenous community,” Holland said. “He gives time to the community. He’s popular in the locker room.

“Two summers ago he spent his entire summer here in Edmonton in the gym every morning with our strength coach, focused, determined, committed to get himself in the best shape he could as an athlete to come into training camp to compete for a spot with out hockey team and he made our hockey team.

“I feel sick for him, I feel disappointed for him that he would he would get this kind of abuse. I think we’ve made strides, but there’s a long way to go to create a world where we’re where everybody feels safe and they don’t get this kind of racism and abuse.”

The 23-year-old Bear, from the Ochapowace Nation in southern Saskatchewan, is one of a small handful of active Indigenous players in the NHL, a list that includes Montreal Canadiens star netminder Carey Price and Stanley-Cup winner T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals.

In a letter issued prior to statements made by Bear, Holland, the Oilers and the NHL, Alberta’s Treaty No. 6 Chiefs said they were appalled at the racism directed towards Bear.

“The Chiefs condemn this act of violence toward Ethan, and are concerned by the lack of response by the Edmonton Oilers for not responding to this critical issue. Far too often our athletes and people are subject to acts of racial slurs and inappropriate derogatory language referencing the race of our people in sports.

“We call upon the National Hockey League to immediately take action to address this conduct of racism and hate towards First Nations people, especially at this time toward Ethan.”

Several took to social media to show their support of Bear, including former players, journalists, broadcasters and politicians.

Former NHLer Andrew Ference, who captained the Oilers for two seasons before retiring, said hockey had no place for racist fans.

“Ethan Bear is a very good hockey player. Lift him up and he will be an integral part of any success the Oilers have in the future.

“More importantly, Ethan Bear is an incredible human. If you’re sending racist remarks his way, you’re just a [expletive]. Hockey doesn’t want you.”

WATCH: Hockey’s greatest flops: A look at how the Oilers loss stacks up

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley also expressed her support of Bear.

“Ethan Bear, you’re an amazing athlete and ambassador for our community,” she tweeted. “You played so hard for the Oilers this year and have inspired so many youngsters. There is no place for racism in Edmonton. We must all be anti-racist.”

CityNews reached out to the Jets organization regarding the comments. True North Sports + Entertainment, the owner of the Jets, directed us back to a statement issued Thursday regarding racism in general, in which they said the murder of George Floyd was a “tragedy” and a “seminal moment in history that significantly raised awareness for issues of racism, social justice, diversity, and equity.”

–with files from The Canadian Press