Asher Hill watched on his TV as U.S. cities burned and on his phone as social media platforms lit up with sports teams, athletes and Canadian national sport organizations racing to condemn racism.
He was outraged, devastated and had had enough. As he was logging off from it all Tuesday night, he was jarred by a post from Skate Canada.
Hill, who is black, has been figure skating since he was three. He’s competed in world championships and international events for Canada. Hill loves his sport and is now a licensed figure skating coach. But as a skater and coach he says he’s constantly faced racism and has always been painfully aware of the colour of his skin.
Hill is also co-host of That Figure Skating Show which is broadcast on CBC Sports’ YouTube channel.
So when Skate Canada said in a post they were “committed to anti-racism and leading by example within the sporting community to bring change,” Hill had to say something.
WATCH | Asher Hill claims hypocrisy in Skate Canada’s statement:
In a series of tweets, he called out Skate Canada for ignoring his complaints of racism, homophobia, misogyny and abuse of skaters and coaches.
“You never ever reached out to me for how you can make this sport safer for children, coaches, and volunteers of colour let alone black people,” he wrote.
He called his sister immediately after and told her he felt like he did something wrong.
“It was fear. Complete and utter fear,” Hill said. “I felt gaslit into thinking my experience in skating wasn’t real and was my own fault.”
In an exclusive interview with CBC Sports, Hill says he filed an official misconduct complaint with Skate Canada last June, highlighting a number of instances spanning five years where he says a co-worker at a Brampton, Ont., figure skating club was abusive with racist, homophobic and misogynistic language.
Skate Canada confirmed to CBC Sports they received a complaint of misconduct from Hill.
“Upon review of the complaint, we were made aware that the skating club involved had retained a professional third-party investigator to manage the complaint,” the organization wrote in an email.
“Skate Canada reviewed the qualifications of the third-party investigator and accepted them to be an unbiased party to handle this complaint.”
The investigator “concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated,” which the Skate Canada says it accepted.
Hill says Skate Canada failed to properly review pertinent information and testimony he provided and feels he was silenced.
“I ended up being the person who was reprimanded,” Hill said. “They wanted to sweep it under the rug. It’s shocking they didn’t talk to the people. When they came down with their decision, they threatened to suspend me or take away my license after I spoke out.”
Skate Canada ‘shut down’ conversation: Hill
Skate Canada denies Hill’s allegation that he was reprimanded and says it never threatened to suspend him or revoke his license after speaking out.
The organization says it contacted Hill on Wednesday morning, saying it wanted to engage in conversation about how to make change.
Hill isn’t taking them up on the offer anytime soon, saying they had a chance to make change when he first spoke up a year ago.
“We could have had this conversation. We did have this conversation, and they shut it down,” he said.
WATCH | Canadian athletes speak out against racism:
In an email to CBC Sports, Skate Canada says it is “committed to continuous improvement” and is working on “a Black inclusion working group to develop education and resources for our community.
“We acknowledge that we have work to do and are committed to taking steps that achieve an inclusive environment for all.”
‘They see an opportunity’
Hill says these and other words posted by many other leagues, athletes and even cultural organizations feel empty right now.
“We can see past their bullshit … They can’t hide behind words anymore,” Hill said. “They see an opportunity. To jump on a social cause, and social causes are good for business.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee issued its own statement Wednesday, saying recent events have “caused us all to self-reflect upon how we can be better.”
“We do not have all the answers, but we unite with our athletes and all Canadians in the fight against racism.”.
[Teams and organizations] see an opportunity. To jump on a social cause, and social causes are good for business.– Asher Hill
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it “fully” supports the right of athletes to make statements on recent events.
“This is their individual right, and this is a right that we fully support,” an IOC spokesperson told CBC Sports.
“The IOC will continue its mission to bring the entire world together through sport, whilst respecting the scope of its mandate.”
Political actions prohibited by IOC
In January, the IOC released its guidelines on protests during an Olympics. According to the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, athletes are prohibited from taking a political stand in the field of play.
The death of George Floyd and the protests that have followed have also elicited statements from many teams in professional leagues in North America, including the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB. High-profile athletes are also weighing in with their thoughts on social media.
But for many, including Hill, the hypocrisy is thick. Hill points to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, and the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves of MLB, all posting about condemning racism, all while sporting what he calls racist team names.
“It’s just not sincere,” Hill said.
‘What actual steps are you taking?’
It’s a feeling echoed by other athletes. Eric Kendricks, a linebacker with the Minnesota Vikings, criticized the NFL for its statement in the wake of Floyd’s death. The NFL has faced criticism for its handling of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who staged silent protests against police brutality in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem prior to games. Kaepernick has yet to play another down of football since that season.
“What actual steps are you taking to support the fight for justice and system reform?” Kendricks said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Your statement said nothing. Your league is built on black athletes. Vague answers do nothing. Let the players know what you are actually doing. And we know what silence means.”
Former NHL goalie Ben Scrivens also wondered what effects the many statements athletes are making would have. In a tweet on Wednesday, Scrivens called out players who have made statements this week.
Scrivens referenced an incident involving racial slurs by former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters in November, and documented incidents involving other NHL players who have been subjected to racism.
“It would have been more meaningful, in my eyes, to see these messages come out during the Bill Peters’ firing saga, or after K’Andre Miller’s Zoom call, or after Akim Aliu’s Players’ Tribune article,” Scrivens wrote.
“My natural cynicism wonders how much of this is expediency, and how much follow through we will see from white players who have publicly stated their intentions.”