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Column: Ohio State, Big Ten failed Jagger Joshua; inexcusably did not live up to values

Kamil Sadlocha should have faced harsher consequences for using racial slurs in a Big Ten hockey game.

Michigan State player Jagger Joshua skates during a hockey game Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Jami Jurich Jami Jurich puts her Ohio State journalism degree to good use, working as professional copywriter by day, SB Nation contributor by night.

We need to pause Rivalry Week coverage for a moment to address Ohio State men’s hockey and the Big Ten conference.

During the Nov. 11 men’s hockey matchup between the Buckeyes and Michigan State, Spartan forward Jagger Joshua was repeatedly called a racial slur by OSU’s forward Kamil Sadlocha. During the game, Sadlocha received a 10-minute game misconduct penalty when a referee overheard him use the slur.

Joshua spoke out about the incident, releasing the following statement:

First off, I want to start by offering my support to Joshua. No player or person should ever have to experience such hatred and ignorance, and it infuriates me to no end that such behavior can happen within earshot of authority with no real consequences. I am so grateful you had the courage to speak out about this experience, and I sincerely hope it can be the catalyst for change in the Big Ten and the NCAA at large. I’m sending best wishes to Joshua and Spartan hockey for the remainder of their season.

I also need to call out the fact that the Big Ten and Ohio State took no immediate action. It wasn’t until Joshua made his statement — 10 days after the incident occurred — that it was acknowledged by the conference.

Remember, an official heard Sadlocha use the slur. And the Big Ten’s response, 10 days later, was … to do nothing.

The Big Ten released an official statement to The Detroit News which said, and I quote, “Due to the absence of indisputable evidence presented to the conference, the conference has not imposed further disciplinary action.”

Yes. You read that correctly. They said there was an “absence of indisputable evidence” despite the fact that Sadlocha was heard by an official AND received a 10-minute game misconduct penalty! HOW MUCH MORE INDISPUTABLE CAN IT BE, Big Ten?

If your jaw is on the ground, it gets worse.

”The Big Ten Conference is committed to providing our student-athletes inclusive environments free from acts of harassment or discrimination in any form. The safety and well-being of our campus communities remains our top priority.”

Is it your top priority? Because if so, you’re failing miserably at it. Your student-athletes and students and anyone else who might find themselves on a Big Ten campus deserve to know that you will not tolerate racism. If the safety and well-being of your communities is truly your top priority and not just a nice PR talking point, then you owe it to your communities to take swift, harsh action against Sadlocha and OSU men’s hockey to prevent anyone else from experiencing what Jagger Joshua did.

Joshua summarized the larger ramifications so brilliantly in his statement, saying, “Acts of racism do not belong in hockey, as they can discourage African Americans and minorities like myself from playing and loving the game. Inaction in the face of racist comments and actions allow these behaviors to continue.”

By essentially washing their hands of this, the Big Ten seems to be blowing smoke with their statement. And in doing so, it tells other student-athletes that racism won’t be taken seriously.

The NHL is made up of 97% white players. Only 26 NHL hockey players are Black. And if there is any hope of leveling the playing field, it has to start at the lower levels. Collegiate hockey feeds to the NHL, and if we want the NHL to change, college hockey needs to set the precedent that racism will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Because otherwise as Joshua said, the inaction allows behaviors to continue that will discourage minorities from playing the sport.

Ohio State also issued a statement to The Detroit News, saying it “worked collaboratively” with the conference in its investigation. The school also said it was “committed to recognizing our remarkable diversity and utilizing our core values to ensure everyone attending or participating in an athletic event feels safe and welcome.”

Here is where I need to address my alma mater directly. This is not the first time an athlete has done something egregious with no real consequences on your watch. And given your track record, I’m sure it won’t be the last. In fact, I was writing about the lack of consequences for athletes 10 years ago, and it saddens me that very little seems to have changed.

In a statement issued by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith on Tuesday, “Kamil is returning home and will not practice or compete at this time.”

Once again, this is not a strong enough response, not by a long shot. The fact that the school’s initial response was to try to sweep this under the rug, followed by a statement that doesn’t even clarify whether Sadlocha left of his own accord or was suspended is unacceptable. If he was suspended or kicked off the team (it should be the latter, if we’re being honest), you need to say that. Say, “Kamil has been removed from the team and will no longer be welcome to practice or compete.”

In fact, his removal from the team isn’t even a strong enough statement, in my opinion. Sadlocha should be expelled from the school, as should any player, student, faculty member, etc who goes around slinging racial slurs at people with the freeness and frequency that Sadlocha did. Racial slurs are not an accident. They create an actively unsafe environment for a large portion of the student body, and they should not be tolerated in athletics or otherwise.

It is absolutely disgraceful that a school whose mission statement includes, “Preparing a diverse student body to be leaders and engaged citizens” and “We understand that diversity and inclusion are essential components of our excellence” wouldn’t take a zero-tolerance stance in this instance.

You list “Diversity and Innovation,” “Inclusion and Equity,” and “Integrity and Respect” among your values and yet, your lack of action in this instance tells your students, alumni, and outside observers that those are just pretty words for show. It tells other students who might think it’s a good idea to use racial slurs that they will get away with it. And it tells minority students that you’re not going to do jack to protect them.

Time and change? It’s time FOR change, Ohio State. In fact, it’s long overdue.