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Akim Aliu played in 10 games for the Colorado Eagles in the 2011-12 season. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, his time with the team included seeing a team staffer dress up like him while wearing blackface.
Aliu says he was invited to the team Halloween party but was told to arrive a little bit later. He told the Journal that he arrived to see current Eagles equipment manager Tony Deynzer, who just two months away from his 1,000th game as a professional equipment manager, wearing blackface, an Afro wig and a jersey with his number and the name “DREAMER” on the back.
“Guys just started laughing,” Aliu said of the party, saying teammates encouraged the two to pose for a photo together.
In the photo, the two have their arms around one another. Deynzer is smiling and Aliu is not. Aliu says he went along with it because he felt trapped and didn’t want to cause a scene in front of the families present.
“I didn’t even grasp the idea of how vicious of a thing that is to do,” Aliu told the Journal.
In 2009-10, Deynzer was voted by his peers as the ECHL’s Equipment Manager of the Year, according to the Colorado Eagles.
In a statement to the Journal, the Eagles organization said they “had absolutely no knowledge of this event” and would not be commenting at this time.
However, the team later issued an apology in a press release.
“As an organization, the discovery of this event deeply saddens us. 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-orientated 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.”
ESPN reported Wednesday afternoon that Deynzer had been placed on administrative leave.
Akim Aliu requested trade from Colorado Eagles after 10 games
Aliu requested a trade later that season after experiencing stress so severe he said he went to the hospital. Aliu was eventually traded to the Calgary Flames organization before making his NHL debut in 2012. Aliu retired from the sport last year after spending most of his time in international and minor leagues.
This past year, Aliu said while playing in the AHL, then Coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs toward him several times in the dressing room. At the time, Peters was coach of the Calgary Flames. The team conducted an investigation and later fired Peters.
Aliu’s comments about the behavior of coaches in hockey has prompted the NHL to create mandatory diversity and inclusion programs for coaches as well as a “zero tolerance” towards abusive behavior.
Nate Chute is a producer with the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at @nchute.
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