An extremely white sport’s fanbase, living in a historically racist city is racist?
After a spirited series, with many overtime games (including Wednesday’s Game 7), the Washington Capitals knocked the defending champion Bruins out the of the playoffs after Joel Ward’s overtime winner sealed the deal. Did I mention that Ward is Black? Because that’s kind of important.
Yes, after the game was over, Bruins fans went to Twitter and exploded in a veritable orgasm of racism, with countless people using racial epithets to refer to Ward. I’m not saying that everyone in Boston is racist, but…would you expect this shit from any other northern city? I mean, come on! But cheer up, Bruins fans, Ward plays on the other team, so it’s not like you have to worry about his kids riding the bus to Southie or anything.
All joking aside, while this incident did make Boston (or at least its hockey fans) look bad, this is especially bad news for the NHL. After being mired in obscurity throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s, people are actually starting to care again. Hockey is still the 4th most popular major sport behind football, basketball, and baseball. If hockey could amass a greater minority fan base, that could change. Unfortunately, after the outburst, I’d call a “classic Boston” attitude, that might not happen any time soon.
But with all this talk of hockey and racism, I can’t help but think that to a certain degree, the NHL benefits from it. The NHL is the only major team sport where the players are overwhelmingly white, and that probably enables more bad — and entertaining — behavior. The rest of the sports world is losing its collective shit over Metta World Peace’s elbow to James Harden, but you see worse things in hockey all the time. Additionally, you can fight! You can beat the shit out of a guy, and all you have to do is sit in a box for 5 minutes and drink Powerade. It’s a sweet deal.
Compare that to the NBA where players get suspended if they so much as step off the bench during an altercation — even of they don’t actually do anything. And when there is true violence in an NBA, sportswriters are quick to freak out, calling it “barbaric” or “disgusting,”when all that really translates to is “black men with tattoos getting mad at each other is frightening to me.”
So, while it was awful to see a black hockey player face racism from the fans, I wonder what hockey would look like if it wasn’t so predominantly white. Would our media prove to be hypocritical, suddenly getting angrier and angrier, and calling the NHL’s 4th-line muscles “animals?” It wouldn’t shock me. And if there were a dress code, stating that players had to where suits everywhere, like they do in the NBA? I could picture that. People talk about banning fighting? Well, if the league wasn’t so thoroughly white, it probably would’ve happened a long time ago. Why? Because white people beating each other up doesn’t scare upper-middle class white people out of buying jerseys. When black players go at it? It’s a different story.
Let’s be clear: it’s not that all hockey fans are racist, or that NHL is an inherently racist league. But we learned from Boston’s angry fans in that the sports “whiteness” is undeniable. Black players are not only extremely rare, but the ones who are in the league are firmly seen as the “other” in the league. The sad thing is, looking at the obvious racial double standards, I can’t help but think that if there were more black players, a different kind of discrimination would sweep the league. The kind that runs through every other major sport. The kind that affects the majority of the players instead of a select few.