The Colorado Avalanche have put Tony Deynzer, the head equipment manager of their AHL affiliate, on administrative leave after former player Akim Aliu told the Wall Street Journal that Deynzer dressed up as Aliu, wearing blackface, at a team Halloween party in 2011.
Aliu was on the Colorado Eagles at the time, and shared the story with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, as well as photos of Deynzer in blackface.
Aliu told the WSJ that he was told to show up to the party late. When he walked in, Deynzer "appeared from behind a corner," according to Aliu, who added that Deynzer "was in blackface, wearing an Afro-style wig and a jersey that had been custom-made with Aliu's number and nickname 'DREAMER' emblazoned on the back."
"Guys just started laughing," Aliu told the WSJ. "All I can do is tell my story."
The Eagles tweeted an open apology to Aliu on Wednesday.
"As an organization, the discovery of this event deeply saddens us," the team said in the statement. "Although we had no prior knowledge, that doesn't excuse or diminish the fact that this has hurt a fellow human being. Rest assured, our organization holds no ego too big or stature so proud that we are above apologies for any wrongdoings. As a family-oriented organization, we wholeheartedly seek your forgiveness and sincerely apologize. We are truly very sorry, and we will also assure you that this behavior is not and never will be acceptable in our organization."
The Nigerian-born Aliu, a longtime minor league player who appeared in seven NHL games, has been in the public eye since he tweeted on Nov. 25 that Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters used racial slurs toward him when he coached Aliu with the Chicago Blackhawks' minor league affiliate in 2009. Aliu is currently a free agent, living in Toronto. The accusations led to an internal investigation by the Flames. Peters, who admitted to the incident in a letter of apology to Calgary GM Brad Treliving, resigned on Nov. 29.
Aliu was invited to the NHL offices this week to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
"It was a tough week, but we had some great discussion," Aliu said in a brief statement after the meeting. "They couldn't have been kinder or more receptive to the message that we're trying to bring."
On Monday, the NHL implemented a four-point plan, including a platform for whistleblowers and an annual training program on diversity and inclusion in response to recent abuse scandals in its coaching community.
Bettman was confident the new policies will help ensure a safer work environment. He stressed a zero-tolerance policy for any failure to notify the league on reported incidents.
"Our message is unequivocal," Bettman said. "We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind."