I know absolutely nothing about the game of ice hockey, and even less about the National Hockey League. But I learned two important things about this sport in the past week: I want to be more like Joel Ward, and America needs to be more like the Boston Bruins.
Ward, we all know by now, is the Washington Capitals forward who bested Bruins goalie Tim Thomas with a rebound shot in overtime and, with a flick of his wrist, dethroned the hometown Stanley Cup Champions. As we also all know by now, Ward is one of a very few black players in the game, a Canadian citizen born of Barbadian parents.
The color of Ward's skin and the course of that overtime puck had nothing to do with each other -- until some very sore and insanely racist losers took to Twitter to try to make it so. In his column yesterday, the Washington Post's Mike Wise described what he called two of the least egregious comments from the post-game Twitter bile (his standard for least egregious being the rare Tweets that did not use the n-word):
The only reason Joel ward is playing hockey is because he got cut from the basketball team in high school #gorilla
Warning to Joel Ward. Your one of three black guys in Canada. I will find you . . . and I will kill you.
What, no "#lynching" hashtag to top it off? I expect a clever hashtag from someone who knows a lot about Canada -- and grammar.
The free-flowing slurs dragged all of Boston under the proverbial bus as the kind of town that would make a black person want to keep going North and cross into Canada (where they only throw banana peels at black hockey players). Among other love notes to New England was this Tweet: "Stay classy, Boston. 1954 called. They want their prejudice back." To which I would say, 1954 may just have a fight on its hands, because 2012 is getting awfully comfortable and straightforward with its racism.
The Bruins, fresh from defeat on the ice, turned in a solid performance as Americans and human beings.
The entire NHL has come out in full force to denounce this particular band of idiots. But the Bruins stand out, because in the same 24-hour news cycle, they lost a deciding Game 7 and their hold on the cup, and then
they won by putting themselves on the side of the opposing player who
ended their championship reign.
"The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night," the organization said in a statement. "These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization."
It might seem like an obvious statement to make, but too often in the last couple of years, clearly racist incidents have been qualified with words like "unfortunate" or "troubling" or "I swear I'm not a racist even though I sent a mass email joking that Obama turned out black because his white mother had sex with a dog." So, emphatically calling a bunch of racists what they are? This year, that's called Bruins.
The most incredible performance, of course, came from Ward. To all of this venom, and to the media circus surrounding the venom, this son of a nurse and an auto mechanic responded in a way many people might not have been capable of: with more excellence.
In the hockey world, Ward is known as a player who performs best when the stakes are highest. Now the whole world knows that, too.
A while back, a friend I hadn't heard from in years tried to coax me into going to the high school reunion at our all-girls prep school. She said, "You should totally come! Who cares that people used to call you Aunt Jemima?" Until that moment, I didn't know that people had called me Aunt Jemima. That remark smarted for a good long while. Now I realize, I needed to stop smarting and get like Ward.
In his first Tweet following the incident, Ward's choice of hashtag said all that needed to be said: #jackierobinson. Robinson wore number 42 on the field. Ward wears number 42 on the ice. And this week, Ward proved that the two share a lot more than that.
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