Bill Plaschke: Raffi Torres in blackface is a disgrace to the NHL
Did you hear about Monday night’s team Halloween party? Forward Raffi Torres and his wife, Gianna, showed up dressed as rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyonce Knowles, which would have been trendy and cute, except both of them were wearing blackface.
For those who forgotten their history -- and these two folks clearly did -- blackface was a type of makeup worn by vaudeville performers in the 19th century as a parody of African Americans. It was degrading then, and it is degrading now, but Torres’ teammate, Paul Bissonnette, thought it was so funny he sent out a photo of the happy couple on Twitter.
An understandable wave of criticism followed, leading to the ignorant statement that makes this costume so frightening.
The Coyotes, you see, publicly defended Torres.
"There is absolutely nothing racist about Raffi and his wife’s costumes," read the Coyotes' statement. "Raffi is a huge fan of Jay Z and his wife loves Beyonce. It was a Halloween party. The fact that this was reported is ridiculous."
Ridiculous? It’s ridiculous that a team would support blackface while competing in a league where its black players have reported hearing racial epithets from opponents and fans.
It’s ridiculous that a team would endorse a historically insensitive gesture at a team function while competing in a league where a player who recently shouted a homophobic slur went unpunished.
And it’s even more ridiculous that a team would promote an environment where such behavior is apparently so acceptable that one of Torres’ teammate felt it appropriate to show it to the world.
That this team is located in Phoenix, home of the infamous anti-immigration legislation, is just coincidental, isn’t it?
It's strange enough that the blackface would be worn by Torres, who endured racial taunts in junior hockey because he is the son of a Mexican father and Peruvian mother.
"For someone to dress up as one of the most successful couples of our generation on Halloween isn’t racism," Bissonnette later tweeted. "You are wrong."
Halloween or not, there’s no disguising the institutional ignorance and insensitivity of the Phoenix Coyotes, and that’s wrong.
-- Bill Plaschke
Top photo: Raffi Torres and his wife, Gianna, costumed as Jay-Z and Beyonce. Credit: Paul Bissonnette Twitter page.
Bottom photo: Raffi Torres out of costume. Credit: Associated Press.