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Dealing With Racial Slurs The NHL Way


Most people look to the South whenever a case of racial intolerance makes headlines. While that stereotype isn’t unfounded, the days when black Southerners — and black Americans overall — were legally relegated to second-class status are gone. Our black countrymen can come and go as they please, even attending NASCAR races at Talladega, Alabama. But what about hockey games in Boston, Massachusetts?

Admittedly, ice hockey isn’t the toughest sports ticket in the black community, yet there are black hockey fans. So it’s likely that some black fans were inside the Boston Garden for Game Seven between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins. No problem, right? Right, until a black Capitals player netted the series-winning goal. The racial slurs then flowed like mint juleps on an antebellum Old South plantation.

To say that some Bruins fans didn’t gracefully accept their team’s early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs is an understatement. In fact, disgruntled Boston fans transformed Twitter into a cesspool of boorish commentary. Now, a few sore losers don’t mean all Bostonians are card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan. However, the presence of racial slurs in Boston, a stronghold of liberalism, does prove that bigotry doesn’t come with a “Made in Dixie” label.

The question isn’t whether racial slurs are still part of the national lexicon, or in what part of the country they’re most common. The question is what type of response racial slurs demand? Are more hate-crime laws the answer? Should the First Amendment be sacrificed to bureaucratic speech police? Maybe we should just emulate Joel Ward?

Who is Joel Ward? He’s the black player who scored the Capitals winning goal. He bore the wrath of immature Boston fans. He’s also my favorite hockey player, even though I’d never heard of him before this incident unfolded and know nothing about ice hockey. To me, a hockey broadcast makes as much sense as the evening news from the dark side of the moon. Joel Ward, conversely, makes perfect sense.

Ward was initially stunned by the demeaning tweets, which is understandable. But he didn’t book a performance of the Jackson and Sharpton Three-ring Civil Rights Circus. He didn’t blame history, slavery, or the daily stress of being a black player in a mostly white sport, a feeling with which white NBA players can certainly empathize. Instead, Ward simply said, “It has no effect on me whatsoever.”

A single statement can’t fully define Joel Ward’s character. It doesn’t divulge his politics, his devotion to family, his charitableness, or if he eats all of his vegetables. It can, however, define his courage and confidence. Joel Ward refused to let a few thoughtless blowhards determine his worth. He dealt with their ignorance in an exemplary manner; a manner that people of all races should adopt as their own.

Successful bigotry — an oxymoron, I know — hinges on the ability to diminish another person’s pride and self-confidence. When bigoted remarks prompt anger or offense, the bigot has gained the advantage. For instance, had Ward reacted rashly, or threatened retaliation, he would’ve granted Boston’s bigots the sense of accomplishment they sought. Effective defamation demands its victims respond in equal thoughtlessness and hostility. When Ward dismissed the racial slurs he denied his antagonists the satisfaction of having provoked his ire. Here’s the score: Joel Ward 1 Boston Bigots 0.

Joel Ward’s words were simple, but the lesson within them is profound. When we yield to bigoted opinion we grant power to the bigot. Rather than reacting with anger or hurt feelings we should dismiss baseless accusations, thereby relegating our detractors to an inferior intellectual status. That’s what Joel Ward did. He refused to empower his antagonists, proving that their views of him and his racial heritage meant nothing.

We’ll never rid the world of bigotry and its associated slurs. That’s a pipe dream reserved for Utopian fantasizers. But if all races dismissed racial slurs with the same confidence Joel Ward exhibited we could reduce their effectiveness and frequency. We might even “form a more perfect union.”

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