Shortly before he hit the ice for practice Sunday morning, the player tweeted a message in Russian that translates roughly as "How can this be?" or “How can this happen?”
Attached to the tweet was a picture of the hosts from CBC's Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi, which broadcasts two games every Saturday with commentary in the Punjabi language.
Although Yakupov quickly removed the photo and message from his feed, online reaction to the tweet came fast.
Yakupov said he didn’t mean any harm by the message.
He said he simply didn’t know that hockey broadcasts were available in other languages, adding that he thinks the program is a good thing.
“I just didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. "I’ve never seen that before. They showed the picture of those two guys and … I’d never seen that before.
“It’s always Canadian or U.S. guys that do [the commentary], so I was just asking ‘what is that? how did it happen?’”
CBC spoke with several members of Edmonton’s Sikh community to hear what they thought about Yakupov’s tweet — and for the most part, they didn't seem to be taking it personally.
“We shouldn't take it amiss — it is resulting from total ignorance,” said Jasbeer Singh, a spokesperson for the Sikh Federation of Edmonton.
“And hopefully, when [he is] more exposed to Canada — Canada's multicultural society as such — [he’ll] be more comfortable.”
Harnarayan Singh is one of the hosts of Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi. He said he's willing to give Yakupov the benefit of the doubt.
“I think that Nail Yakupov was actually probably happy to see that hockey is being covered in a lot of different languages and for different communities in Canada.”
“If anything, maybe he is just surprised that we are so well represented in Canada,” agreed Harman Candola, who helps run a youth soccer league in the city that brings kids of different faiths together as teammates.
“I don’t think Yakupov meant it in a malicious way or vicious way, being that he has a [cultural] background and is a Muslim. He probably appreciates the efforts that they’re making.”
Candola has extended an invitation to the Oilers’ player to come to his temple in order to learn more about the Sikh faith.
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