NHL, Not Boston, Is To Blame For Racial Internet Fodder
Blaming Boston for its old racist attitudes is counterproductive, says a former resident
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of the Loop 21.
The downright jubilant vitriol with which Atlanta Hawks fans jeered Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo off the court in Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, wasn’t about Rondo’s apparent bump of referee Marc Davis. No, these folks’ beef was about something deeper: The city sometimes emblazoned on Rondo’s chest.
Everybody hates Beantown. And though within the context of a heated playoff series the hatred makes sense, most black folks came to dislike Boston because they have a friend who went to college there and hated it, or you hate the city because it doesn’t “have” black people (it does).
It’s en vogue to hate Boston again thanks to the silly, racist and disgusting comments hurled at the Washington Capitals’s Joel Ward after his game-winning goal in sudden death of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins last week. A whole lot of Internet thugs lazily sent tweets calling Ward the n-word. This is, of course, something they’d never do to his face. "It doesn't faze me at all," Ward told USA Today. "We won, and we are moving on. People are going to say what they want to say."
Too bad those comments don’t reflect badly on Boston.
They’re about two things: the Internet and the NHL.
Sure, the tweets are a symptom of racism in our society as a whole, but most people spew their most hateful, racist comments while hiding behind the milky glow of a smartphone or computer. Just read the comment section of any story about Trayvon Martin.
But a more sinister poison has seeped into the equation: People are now professing their hatred of Boston because of the tweets. In this analysis, the city of Boston is something of an easy target, with its less than favorable history of race relations. And though that history is in its not so distant past, Boston is a far more cosmopolitan city than most imagine it. The legacy of busing and other tricky race matters have no more to do with the city’s current state than, say, Times Square’s prostitution problem.
Hate Boston all you want, but you’re being distracted from the real issue.
The NHL has had repeated racial incidents occur and failed to do anything but release statements about them. During the preseason, Wayne Simmonds had a banana thrown in his path as he was going for a penalty shot. “I caught it from the side of my eye,” he later told the media. “It was a banana. Hopefully, that wasn't directed towards me being black. Because if it was, that's just somebody being ignorant.
"When you're a black man playing in a predominantly white man's sport, you've got to come to expect things like that.”
It’s more like when you’re a black man playing in a league whose commissioner hasn’t taken a hard stance on racism against its black players … you’ve got to come to expect things like that.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement after the Simmonds incident that did everything to protect the game’s image and nothing to condemn the fan that threw the banana or the apparent attitude of the sport in which this is deemed acceptable. “We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game,” he said. “The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
You wonder if Bettman just doesn’t care, or lacks the thoughtfulness to address the problem. Which is that the NHL, whether he admits it or not, has a problem. Fans at a Montreal Canadiens game two years ago infamously thought they were supporting PK Subban, who is Jamaican-Canadian, by wearing blackface. In 2002, a fan threw a banana at then-Carolina Hurricanes Kevin Weekes.
The NBA, too, knew it had a problem when Kobe Bryant was caught on camera calling a referee a gay slur. After fining Bryant $100,000, it started a 30-second commercial, a campaign in which it speaks out against using the term ‘gay’ as an epithet. It features Phoenix Suns forwards Grant Hill and Jared Dudley.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said:
"Kobe Bryant's comment during last night's game was offensive and inexcusable. While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."
The NHL could take a few notes from David Stern and the NBA with how they handled the Bryant situation.
People do not “like” Boston, for whatever reason. Bostonians and their pride. Their heinous accents. The championships.
And all the while, the black players of the NHL, a small and damn near voiceless fraternity, suffer for it. While we decry a city for the crimes of yesteryear, the real culprit -- the bigger fish -- gets a pass.
[Also Read: Racist Tweets Didn't Start Joel Ward]