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Suspension repealed for hockey player who defended teammate against anti-Asian slur

Keegan Mitchell was suspended for two games after slashing an opponent who racially targeted a teammate. Critics roared when the opponent received the same punishment.

After backlash from fans across the internet, a junior hockey league in Canada's Prince Edward Island has repealed its punishment of Keegan Mitchell, a player who defended his teammate against an opponent’s anti-Asian remarks. 

Hockey PEI on Wednesday reversed its indefinite suspension after facing criticism for disciplining Mitchell, who plays for the Sherwood Metros, after he posted on Facebook about an incident in which a Kensington Vipers player used anti-Asian slurs against a Metros player during a game last month.

Both Mitchell and the Vipers player were suspended two games, Mitchell for slashing and the opponent for uttering the slur. Mitchell then wrote on Facebook about being disappointed with the league for what he saw as insufficient punishment of the opposing player. He was subsequently suspended indefinitely for what was deemed a violation of the league’s social media policy. 

The league's move was met with uproar from social media users who accused it of unreasonably punishing a player for taking a stand against hate and of protecting racism in the league. 

Since then, the organization not only rescinded Mitchell's suspension, but also extended the offending player’s suspension to five games.

Hockey PEI said it acknowledges “the initial error in judgment and express our deepest apologies to the victim.” 

“As an organization and as individuals, we need to take a stand against racism and help make the hockey environment a safe and welcoming place for everyone,” Hockey PEI said in a statement provided to NBC News. “We commend Keegan for speaking up for what was right and shining a spotlight on our missteps around this tragic incident.” 

Mitchell, who told The People’s Show that he received a great deal of support across Canada as well as the U.S. for his actions, said he felt it necessary to stand up for his teammate. He encouraged others to do the same against racism, stressing the importance of understanding how victims feel. 

“I’ve heard through my teammate how it makes him feel and listening to him tell me how he feels, I definitely feel for him and it gives me more of a reason to want to stand up for everybody else,” Mitchell said. “There’s no room for this in the game of hockey or in life at all. So any chance you get to stand up to it, definitely do.” 

In the Facebook post, Mitchell had written that he was angry about the racist insults being hurled at his teammate during the game. Mitchell said he defended his teammate by “slashing” his opponent, swinging a stick at a rival and incurring a penalty. 

“I have no regrets for it,” Mitchell said on the radio program. “In the moment I had to send the message and that’s just what I did there.” 

Mitchell said he felt it necessary to share the experience after he and the Vipers player received the same punishment from the league. 

“My question is, when is Hockey PEI going to start taking ALL racist slurs and comments on the ice into consideration for appropriate penalization?” Mitchell wrote. “A 2 game suspension for a racist slur is absolutely disgraceful. Finally, Hockey PEI when are you going to wake up and realize that this pitiful suspension is making our whole community look racist?” 

The league said the incident had made it "realize that our inclusivity and anti-harassment guidelines for officials, teams, players and their families do not go far enough to protect those that they should.

“We are committed to change not only the guidelines of the game on the Island, but the culture as well.”