The ECHL has suspended former Jacksonville Icemen forward Jacob Panetta for the remainder of the 2021-22 season for what the league called "a racial gesture" toward South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Jordan Subban last Saturday.
Panetta, 26, can ask for a reduction of that 38-game suspension and apply for reinstatement to the ECHL after March 17, "pending successful completion of a learning experience conducted in conjunction with the National Hockey League's Player Inclusion Committee."
The Icemen announced on Sunday that they had released Panetta following the ECHL's decision to suspend him indefinitely, pending its investigation.
The incident happened in overtime. South Carolina's Andrew Cherniwchan had collided with Jacksonville goalie Justin Kapelmaster, sparking a skirmish between the teams. According to Subban, he tried to engage Panetta in a fight. Panetta responded by taunting Subban, who is Black.
"As soon as I began to turn my back, he started making monkey gestures at me, so I punched him in the face multiple times and he turtled like the coward he is," Subban tweeted.
"They don't call the East Coast League the 'jungle' because my brother and the other black players are the monkeys! Hey Jacob Panetta, you shouldn't be so quick delete your Twitter or your Instagram account. You will probably be able to play again -- that's what history says," P.K. Subban tweeted to his 1 million followers.
Panetta released a video statement this week claiming that he made "a tough guy, bodybuilder gesture" toward Subban and said there is footage of him making "the same bodybuilder gesture to non-racialized players a number of times, when there have been on-ice confrontations."
Panetta, who apologized to Subban and his family, said his gesture wasn't intended to be racist and that he didn't "contemplate at the time" how it could be interpreted as such.
ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin said in his ruling that Panetta's intent wasn't relevant.
"Insensitive actions and gestures, regardless of intent, cannot be tolerated in our game," said Crelin. "We all need to learn and grow from this incident and remain steadfast to further educating and advancing our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout our league."
The Icemen released a statement on Thursday, saying that the hockey world needs "to understand and recognize all forms of racism to ensure that we will abolish it from our game forever" for the betterment of the sport.
"This has come up once again, and there is no room for racism of any kind in our game. This unfortunate incident is an opportunity for us to make a difference in our sport. We see this as an opportunity to listen and learn and use our platform to inform and educate. Not just for our players and our fans, but our sport and our community. We must do more if we're looking to grow our sport and engage minorities," the Icemen said in a statement.
The incident occurred one day after the American Hockey League suspended San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik for 30 games after he made a racist gesture toward Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners in a Jan. 12 game. Hrabik, 22, imitated the movements of a monkey in a taunt that targeted Imama, who is Black.
The AHL was the first league to offer a reduced suspension for a racist incident if the suspended player took part in training with the NHL's Player Inclusion Committee. Hrabik can apply to the AHL for reinstatement after missing 21 games, and a decision will be "based on an evaluation of his progress in the necessary education and training" with the Player Inclusion Committee.