I thought that a small portion of the Vancouver Canucks fan base had set the bar pretty low after attempting to burn their city down following losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
As usual, I have been proven wrong.
The Boston Bruins’ attempt at repeating as NHL Champions ended after the Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward scored on a rebound in Game 7 of overtime this past Wednesday night.
I didn’t have a dog in the fight, though I was kind of rooting for the Bruins, but I was happy for Ward scoring the winning goal as the AHL Milwaukee Admirals are among the many teams he has bounced around between the NHL and the minor leagues during his pro hockey career.
Being in Wisconsin, I was much more insulted when someone named Scott Walker eliminated the Bruins in Game 7 a few years back.
In this instance, the lowest common denominator reared its ugly head in the form of the social media world because Joel Ward just so happens to be black, and a participant of color in the NHL is still somewhat of a novelty, not unlike Jordy Nelson being a novelty as a Caucasian NFL wide receiver.
First of all Bruins fans, why not try sounding off on the game officials and the NHL ‘Situation Room’ first? A teammate was in the goaltender crease and interfered with Tim Thomas, so the goal should had been disallowed.
Or how about giving the Capitals credit (or criticize your own team) for the series getting to overtime of Game 7 to begin with…
But I digress.
The demographics of professional and collegiate sports will always be talked about on bar stools; and the cheap shots will always continue by those with nothing much else to do with their lives who spew HTML.
And the insults aren’t limited to racism.
Golfer Phil Mickelson is targeting legal action towards offenders in comment forums who alleged about affairs and a ‘bastard child’. Personally I don’t even think Phil should bother wasting his time and giving his haters media satisfaction. As someone once told me, you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.
I will not repeat most of the slander directed towards Ward in the aftermath of the Capitals win. You can read some of what was tweeted in this Daily Mail article. Not surprisingly most of the accounts involved are already deleted, some of which will no doubt resurface under a different handle. I’m sure social media is fast approaching the day where revealing a real name, rank, and serial number will be a requirement for it’s terms of usage, if it’s not getting there already.
One account not yet deleted did rhetorically ask what black family would ever name their kid ‘Joel’. Maybe it’s the opposite of a ‘Reggie Cleveland All-Star’.
I did get a chuckle however on the hater who referred to Ward as ‘one of three black men in Canada’, then vowed that he would be hunted down.
That person needs to either do some research or take some serious math lessons. According to Wikipedia, close to 700,000 people live inside the city of Toronto (not counting entire metro area), and 8.2% of those people are black – that would be 50,000+ in just the boundaries of Canada’s largest city. That’s a few more than ‘three’.
And a few more numbers.
The average NHL team dressed anywhere between 35-40 players per team during the 2011-12 regular season. Multiply that number by the 30 NHL teams and then subtract those players who played for two or more teams during the course of the season. Roughly 1,000 different players put on a NHL uniform this season.
Per Wikipedia, 28 of those were of at least some African heritage. That would be somewhere between 2.5% and 3% that blacks are now represented in the league. It’s come a ways since the days of just Grant Fuhr and Tony McKegney. Last year the Atlanta Thrashers had five black players on their roster (some suggested at the time that the organization acquired those players to appeal to Atlanta’s demographics. Several years earlier the Edmonton Oilers also got to having five black players on its roster.
The NHL also saw its first black head coach when long-time Chicago Blackhawk Dirk Graham briefly led that team.
And for those who still thought the demographic of ‘Black Canadian’ was non-existent, let me introduce you to one of the greatest black Canadian athletes of all, and he wasn’t even a hockey player. This goes back a couple of generations.
I would be talking about baseball great Ferguson Jenkins.
Truth is, professional hockey has become one of the most diverse sports around. Forty years ago nearly all the participants were either ‘Anglo-Canadian’ or ‘French-Canadian’. Now the NHL’s rank-and-file hail from the U.S, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and many other European nations – with players of black descent making up their own small piece of the pie.
There is one stereotype that has been mentioned over time of a perceived percentage of black NHL players falling under the ‘enforcer/fighter’ category. Names like Donald Brashear and Peter Worrell, among others, would quickly roll of the tongues of those who have followed the NHL’s pugilistic side over the years. Even goaltender Ray Emery got a well-deserved rep as one of the most feared fighters in the game.
The more accurate angle is that of North American players (regardless of race) are historically far more adept at dropping the gloves and following the NHL’s unwritten ‘fight code’ while their European counterparts frequently do not.
And then there is defenseman PK Subban, who has become a lightning rod in his young career for several reasons.
First, he is black. Second, he plays for the Montreal Canadiens, an organization where a good portion of its fan base still wishes that the team could still roll out 20 French-speaking players each night. And finally, Subban is very talented, but still somewhat raw, and plays a chippy/edgy game.
On a typical Saturday night when Montreal is playing, Subban gets it in the Twitter world from his own fans, and hockey fans in general, whenever he makes a blunder or commits a bad penalty – and by his own ethnicity and the market he plays for, his actions are magnified much more than if he was playing for say, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Had Joel Ward eliminated any other franchise from the NHL playoffs, there would still be that miniscule percentage that would say something on social media just to get attention. But with the market involved here just happening to be Boston, it also brings back that the segregated rep and history of that city – and abuse heaped upon Boston-area athletes such as Jim Rice, et al.
Selling off Babe Ruth is always talked about in regards to the Boston Red Sox ‘curse’. Well, there was a pretty good player the Red Sox elected to pass on in 1949 in part because he did not fit the desired demographic. How would Willie Mays have sounded hitting behind Ted Williams?? That’s not a curse, that’s a missed opportunity.
Fortunately Joel Ward has taken the high road in the aftermath of the typed hatred of a small number of mostly juvenile haters. And it goes on with athletes world-wide. I recorded the infamous Prince Fielder walk-off home run on YouTube a couple years back. People then used the comment forum to make racial attacks on Prince. Then I ultimately get called out (rightfully so) for not policing my site and deleting the comments.
And as long as the actions of a few lonely humanoids keep getting attention this cycle of nonsense will unfortunately continue.