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A Tribute to Nottingham Panthers ice hockey player Adam Johnson during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa at City Ground on November 5, 2023 in Nottingham, England. | Source: Marc Atkins / Getty

A suspect has been arrested and charged with manslaughter for the death of a hockey player whose neck was cut during a mid-game collision with an opposing player described as a “freak accident.”

British police have not announced the name of the suspect, but Adam Johnson died after the skate of Matt Petgrave struck his neck during a match between the Nottingham Panthers and the Sheffield Steelers late last month. Graphic video footage from the match showed the moment of collision with blood quickly spreading on the ice. The Panthers quickly called it a “freak accident” and Johnson, 29, was buried during a funeral in his Minnesota hometown last week.

Johnson is white and Petgrave is Black.


Matt Petgrave skates on July 26, 2023, at Agganis Arena in Boston. | Source: Icon Sportswire / Getty

The reason why their races are of importance here is that hockey fans in the U.K. quickly peppered Petgrave, 31, with racist insults and amplified calls for his arrest and criminal charges despite the absence of any apparent nefarious intent while competing in a sport in which violence is encouraged and fistfights are written into the rulebook.

Exaggerated social media memes accused Petgrave of “murdering” Johnson and seized upon racist tropes to portray him as a bloodthirsty and homicidal monster who intended to kill while calling for his execution.


It was in that context that an arrest was made and criminal charges were brought in Johnson’s death.

In the meantime, while it seems obvious that Petgrave was the person charged, privacy laws in the UK prevent a suspect’s name from being made public – that is, until they are charged, according to the Athletic.

Not all hockey fans in the U.K. blamed Petgrave, who was recently greeted with a standing ovation before a match. (Of course, that got the racists even angrier…)


The nature of the criminal charges for Johnson’s death is unprecedented.

“Even in cases when there has been very serious injury caused to someone, falling short of death, it is often the case that the regulatory authorities of that particular sport or the governing body of that sport will get involved rather than the police dealing with it,” Patrick Maguire, a partner at a British law firm, told the Athletic.

Racism is rampant among law enforcement in the U.K., according to recent reports. That apparently includes the South Yorkshire Police – the department investigating Johnson’s death – which was in the news last summer after one of its constables was fired for being caught using an anti-Black racial slur on a Snapchat video.


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