Jacob Panetta vs Jordan Subban, Racism or Another Hoax?

Jacob Panetta vs Jordan Subban, Racism or Another Hoax?

This past weekend a fight in the ECHL resulted in accusations of a racial gesture, leading to the indefinite suspension of Jacob Panetta. In the aftermath of a fight, Panetta was accused of making a racial gesture (simulating a monkey) directed toward Jordan Subban, the brother of NHL star P.K. Subban. This story is blowing up on social media, and before we have had a chance to evaluate all the facts, the mainstream media has acted like judge, jury and executioner.

Panetta has since been cancelled, unpersoned in Orwellian fashion. If he’s guilty then he deserves everything coming his way, there’s no place for racism in society or in sport. The problem is that the story has taken on a life of it’s own. Headlines offer no nuance, but rather a condemnation based on little to no evidence. The video of the incident widely shared on social media comes with a caption: “Panetta can be seen taunting Subban and making a ‘monkey gesture’ towards his opponent.”

This is a common tactic used by mainstream media to influence viewers. Rather than show you the evidence and let you decide what you see, they instruct you on what you are about to see. This is highly effective, but the power of suggestion doesn’t work on everyone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times, and I know what I see and what I don’t see. I see a gesture, and I don’t see any evidence it has anything to do with race.

Panetta claims that puffing out his chest and spreading his arms in a “peacock like” pose was impersonating a “tough guy”, not a monkey. This seems quite plausible, especially for those of us who have been in our share of fights. Mocking your opponent in a fight is as common as celebrating when you score a goal. NHL bad boy Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals is known to make a similar gesture when things get heated on the ice. That hasn’t stopped Wilson from issuing a statement condemning Panetta.

So I don’t know whether Panetta is guilty or not, but since I am in the business of making educated guesses, I am going to take a stab at it. Let me refer to Occam’s razor (The simplest answer is usually the correct one). The idea that a professional athlete would mock an African American opponent with a monkey gesture while on live TV, knowing that it would surely result in severe punishment, seems less likely than the story offered by Panetta. Both Tom Wilson and Jacob Pannetta have been filmed directing this type of gesture towards Caucasian opponents during games.

Historical Precedents

I will also cite historical precedent. There have been several stories that turned out to be outright hoaxes, including the Duke Lacrosse Scandal in 2006, and the Jussie Smollett story in 2019. More recently there were a few high profile cases that would be better described as misunderstandings. An FBI investigation proved that a noose found in the garage of Bubba Wallace at Talladega was actually just a rope that had been in the same spot months prior. Wallace didn’t seem convinced when he issued a statement on the FBI’s findings: “It was a noose that, whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose,” Wallace said. “It wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose, that’s what I’m saying. It is a noose.” In August of 2021 the Colorado Rockies issued a statement condemning a fan who had allegedly shouted the n-word at Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson. The story was blasted all over the major networks, but a few days later video evidence proved that the fan was shouting the name of the Rockies mascot “Dinger”. Brinson’s comments after the investigation suggest he was not convinced: “All I know is that, in my opinion, it sounds a lot like the n-word. But I’m not that fan. I don’t know what he said,”

My take is that Panetta is more likely a victim of a misunderstanding than he is the perpetrator of a racial attack. I think we should all hope that is the case, because we are better off living in a world less divided. I hope I am correct, but if I am wrong then let me be the first to cast a stone in his direction.


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