Racist Insults Directed at Joel Ward Reveal Issue to Be Addressed in Society, Not Just Among Bruins Fans


April 26, 2012

Racist Insults Directed at Joel Ward Reveal Issue to Be Addressed in Society, Not Just Among Bruins FansThis is a column that should not have to be written.

It shouldn’t be necessary because we should have moved beyond the virulent racism that has disgraced this nation for so much of its history. But that’s not reality.

We can delude ourselves that we’ve moved on from our racist past, ease our guilt with false platitudes like, “how can racism still be an issue when we have a black President?” That’s been the go-to defense of the indefensible since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and is just as misleading on a societal level as the age-old, “but my best friend is black” assertion always was on a personal level.

Sadly, racism in America is alive and well. It has changed over the years, morphed into more institutional forms and been driven underground in its more overt manifestations. The open expression of racist views and beliefs is no longer accepted, a positive step no doubt, but not nearly enough when so many anonymous avenues of attack are open to the purveyors of hatred in today’s society.

Avenues such as social media, which had far too much of its traffic clogged with vile messages on Twitter on Wednesday night in response to Joel Ward‘s overtime game-winner against the Bruins. Ward, one of a small minority of players of color in the NHL, had his moment of glory sullied by the ignorant and racist rants of cowards hiding in the anonymity of cyberspace.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis called out that cowardice in response to the assaults upon his player.

“Shame on these folks who decided to take to their keyboards and show their ignorance and their racism and hate,” Leonsis wrote on his blog. “What these people have said and done is unforgivable. 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.”

No right-thinking person could argue that. Sadly though, exposing these individuals to the public ridicule they deserve is not practicable. It likely wouldn’t have the desired result anyway, as today’s society seems to value infamy as much as fame in the age of the reality star and the constant spin of the 24-hour news cycle.

There is value in exposing ignorance, but there is danger too. While too much of society is blind to the fact that such beliefs are still held by far too many and could benefit from being exposed to such reality, that exposure also brings more attention to the racists, broadens the reach of their vile messages and emboldens them to continue their attacks.

With such considerations, there will be no links to any of the offensive tweets here, no acknowledgement of any of their names or Twitter handles. The problem cannot be ignored, but the individuals do not deserve the spotlight. 

In that way, Ward has proven an inspiration. Ward rose above the hatred directed at him, telling the USA Today that it was “shocking to see, but it didn’t ruin my day.”

Ward added that while a small number of Bruins fans may have hurt the fan base’s reputation with their ignorance, more came forward to condemn the racist remarks.

“I’m definitely getting a lot of support,” Ward said. “There have been a lot of Boston fans who have supported me, which is very cool to see. No hard feelings from me. This is a game.”

It is a game where passions can run high, on and off the ice. But that does not excuse anyone for sinking to the depths reached on Twitter on Wednesday.

Those lows were such that even the Bruins, the franchise that broke the color barrier in the NHL when Willie O’Ree made history more than five decades ago, felt compelled to publicly denounce the racist messages.

“The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night,” read a statement released by the team on Thursday. “These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”

In today’s world, organizations sadly need to make such statements, even though anyone who would think such messages would reflect what the team or the vast majority of its fans believe are as ignorant as the racists spewing their hatred in the first place.

Are there racists in the city of Boston and among the followers of the Bruins? Undoubtedly. There are racists in every town and city in this nation and in every walk of life. But a handful of ignorant cowards on Twitter should not sully the entire city, the organization or its fans. This is not a Bruins problem, but an American and even a global one.

As such, it cannot be ignored, and perhaps some good can come out of these deplorable actions after all if it can serve as a reminder of how far we still have to go as a society.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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