There were some major controversies in the sport of hockey over the course of the last several weeks as a number of players were suspended for racist conduct on the ice, but the story of one Jacob Panetta has perhaps been the most controversial of them all. That isn't due to the fact that what Panetta did was particularly obscene, but rather due to the fact that the young defenseman has vehemently denied any wrongdoing despite the fact that he has faced tremendous public scrutiny.
Panetta was accused by several prominent figures in the hockey world of having made a racist gesture at defenseman Jordan Subban during an ECHL game between the Jacksonville Icemen and the South Carolina Stingrays, with Jordan Subban and his brother, National Hockey League defenseman, P.K. Subban being the most vocal figures lobbing those accusations at Panetta.
In fact the video of the incident remains P.K. Subban's pinned tweet at the time of this writing, and around the 18-20 second mark is where you can see Panetta making the gesture that has landed him in hot water.
The Subban's have argued that this was a racist taunt directed at Jordan, however Panetta has disputed those claims arguing instead that it is a "tough guy" pose that he has made several times during his career when opposing players were attempting to goad him into a fight. In fact Panetta even published a video of him making that very same pose against the South Carolina Stingrays during an earlier game when Subban wasn't a member of their roster.
The video quality is not the best however:
In spite of that the ECHL made the move to suspend Panetta for the remainder of the ECHL season and many have been quick to point to the fact that Panetta had not as of yet received any support from his teammates as a further indication that he had in fact committed a racist act. Now that has also changed.
On Friday Panetta's teammates, the players for the Jacksonville Icemen, issued a public statement throwing their support behind their suspended teammate in spite of the fact that it will no doubt now also open them up to public backlash. For the sake of preserving the integrity of their statement, here it is unedited and in full:
Please let us take the time to shed light on the incident that occured on Saturday, January 22, 2022, in a game between Jacksonville Icemen and the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.
During Overtime, an on-ice scrum occurred between our teammate Jacob Panetta and South Carolina’s Jordan Subban. The incident escalated as players of the Stingrays joined in on the altercation. We knew penalties were going to be given out for their actions and we wanted the Powerplay to try and win the game. In the heat of the moment, we didn’t realize why the altercation had escalated as it did and is also why we refrained from jumping on the ice in defense of Jacob.
The perception in which Jacob’s actions were taken by some were not the way in which they were intended to be. We have seen Jacob do this many times before to those not of color and can be seen doing so in our previous games. The way in which he has been harassed, shamed and threatened is truly not okay for him or anyone. These perceived gestures do not reflect or depict our friend and teammate we have grown to admire and respect today. Jacob is a man of character, filled with kindness, sincerity and compassion for others and we fully believe his actions were not racially motivated.
Jacob has been portrayed and put into an unimaginable position by the league, media, our organization, as well as others. As his teammates and for those who know him, know the man he really is. We also know that as a hockey player and more importantly as a person does not deserve this. Please consider seeing both sides of this situation and the evidence that has been supported, while understanding the severity and impact that this has brought to him and others.
With that we would like to express our empathy with Jordan Subban, the Subban family, and those who may have been affected by these actions. We fully understand now, as well as others, how Jacob’s actions could be perceived and how those actions have impacted so many across the World. For this, we are truly saddened and sorry for all the harm that it has caused.
As we move forward, we need to recognize the challenges we face in society as well as in the game of hockey. We are choosing to stand together in UNITY and want to extend our hand to help educate and support in ENDING RACISM. We acknowledge that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and we are committed in helping to strive for EQUALITY. We hope the Subban family and others choose to see Jacob’s actions as for what they really were and come TOGETHER in SOLIDARITY.
I still don't feel comfortable making a judgement one way or another, but it would seem that evidence in support of Panetta's position in this dispute is slowly starting to mount. Regardless of where the truth may lie, this is an ugly situation and one where there will be no winners at the end of the day.