Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward didn’t let the racist response of some Boston Bruins fans to his overtime game-winning, series-clinching goal Wednesday night that defeated the Stanley Cup champion Bruins spoil the moment for him.
“It doesn’t faze me at all,” Ward told USA Today Sports Thursday. “We won, and we are moving on…People are going to say what they want to say.”
And what some Bruins fans said in tweets and emails shortly after Ward slid the puck under Boston goalie Tim Thomas to become the first black player in National Hockey League history to score a series-ending overtime goal was downright racist.
“The fact that a n***er scored the winner goal make this loss hurt more,” one tweet read.
“Can’t believe Boston just let a sand n***er beat them,” another disgruntled fan tweeted.
“Stupid n***er go play basketball hockey is a white sport,” still another tweet said.
“Warning to Joel Ward. Your one of three black guys in Canada. I will find you…and I will kill you,” yet another tweet screamed.
And those posts were some of the gentler ones. Ward shrugged off the vile electronic scribbling as the work of “just kids.”
“It has no effect on me whatsoever,” he told USA Today. “I’ve been playing this game long enough and I’ve not had any encounters of that nature.”
But the NHL, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals management weren’t as forgiving. The league issued a statement stating that “The racially-charged comments distributed via digital media following last night’s game were ignorant and unacceptable.”
“The people responsible for these comments have no place associating themselves with our game,” the statement concluded.
The Bruins, whose quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions was quashed by Ward’s goal, also issued a statement condemning the racist response by Boston fans.
“The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night,” a statement from the team said. “These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis took to his blog and penned a post titled “Keyboard Courage and Ignorance” to vent his anger towards those who hurled racial epithets at Ward online.
“What these people have said and done is unforgivable,” Leonsis wrote. “I hope they are now publicly identified and pay a huge price for their beliefs. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of hate mongering. Their messages should now stay glued into the algorithms to place a forever warning and a mark upon these people and their actions. They shouldn’t be able to escape their keystrokes.”
The tweets were especially egregious given Boston’s role in black hockey history. Willie O’Ree, who broke the league’s color barrier in 1958, did it in a Boston Bruins uniform. Mike Grier, a recently retired NHL player and a relative of NFL great Rosie Grier, had a stellar collegiate career skating for Boston University.
Black players are a small but growing number in the NHL. Some 38 minority players had permanent spots of NHL rosters during the 2011-12 regular season. Of that group, 18 players were black, eight were Native/Aboriginal, four were Hispanic, two were West Asian/Arab, one was Inuit, one was Haitian/West Indian and one was East Asian, according to league figures.
Last May, four of the first 12 players selected in the Ontario Hockey League draft were black. The OHL is a junior league that’s a stepping stone to the NHL. Malcolm Subban, an OHL player and brother of Montreal Canadiens star defenseman P.K. Subban, is likely to be the first goaltender selected in this summer’s NHL draft.
Several NHL teams, including the Capitals and the Bruins, assist minority-oriented youth hockey programs in their cities that help expose the often expensive game to inner-city children at no cost.
Last month, the NHL announced a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to provide full scholarships for academically eligible children in NHL-supported youth hockey programs to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As part of the partnership two HBCU’s – Howard University and Cheney University of Pennsylvania are currently working on establishing club hockey programs on their campuses this fall.
Last September, the NHL sent a group of representatives – including Ward – to Washington to participate in the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Week.
Ward’s goal had a touch of irony that wasn’t lost on a lot of black hockey fans. He scored against Tim Thomas, who snubbed President Barack Obama by refusing to accompany his Bruins teammates to the White House to celebrate their championship for political reasons.