NHL decries racist Twitter attacks on Joel Ward
The NHL has released a series of statements Thursday decrying the racist backlash aimed at Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals, after he scored the game-winning goal against the Boston Bruins Wednesday night.
"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," said a statement released by the NHL.
The Washington Capitals released their own statement calling the comments "totally unacceptable."
"We are aware of some of the racial comments that were made following our overtime victory last night and are outraged by those individuals who expressed such ignorant comments," it read.
Ward, a Canadian whose parents emigrated from Barbados, scored the game-winner over last year's Stanley Cup champions at 2:57 into overtime, to make the final score 2-1 for Washington.
It was a career high for the player, but the sweet taste of victory was quickly overpowered by bitter Bruins fans who took aim at Ward's racial heritage on Twitter.
Ward said through his agent on Thursday he is putting the remarks behind him and focusing on hockey. His agent, Peter Cooney, called the comments "disturbing."
Cooney acknowledged that the remarks likely came from a small segment of hockey fans, but said they still make him sick.
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis also jumped into the fray Thursday, calling the racist remarks "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," Leonsis said on his blog.
Leonsis called Ward a "great teammate and a great citizen" and said the team is supporting him.
"He is now the star of stars in our city for his heroics last night," he said.
Incensed fans began launching personal attacks against Ward shortly after his game-winning goal on Wednesday night, not over his playing ability but over the colour of his skin.
"The fact that a n***** scored the winner goal makes this loss hurt a lot more," tweeted someone with the handle @tomtroy12.
Another wrote: "Stupid n***** go play basketball hockey is a white sport."
Those were just two relatively tame examples in a long list of racist posts that appeared on Twitter following the game, though many were removed by Thursday morning and some of the offending accounts appeared to have been deleted altogether.
Others defended Ward against the attacks, such as @JordanLerm who tweeted "Please don't think that most Boston fans are like that. We really aren't. You guys played well and congrats on moving on."
An official statement released by the Boston Bruins echoed these sentiments.
"The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night. These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization," read the statement.
Another fan pointed out that Willie O'Ree, a Canadian who was the first black player in the NHL, started his career in Boston.
Howard Bloom, editor of Sports Business News, said the reaction from Bruins fans likely doesn't come as a shock to Ward, one of the few black players in the NHL.
"He understands and he appreciates that he is a minority and he stands as an example to everyone and Joel must and will turn this into him being a champion, him being a leader," Bloom told CTV's Canada AM.
Racism is not unheard of in hockey. Last fall during a preseason game in London, Ont., a banana peel was thrown at Philadelphia Flyers player Wayne Simmonds, who is black.
He managed to score just moments after the banana peel landed on the ice in front of him, and responded diplomatically to the insult when asked about it by reporters afterwards.
"When you're a black man playing in a predominantly white man's sport, you've got to come to expect things like that," Simmonds told reporters.
Twenty-six-year-old Christopher Moorhouse, who was fined $200 and charged with engaging in a prohibited activity over the incident, said through his lawyer he was simply caught up in the game and the move was not intended as a racist act.
Back in 2005, Ted Nolan, an aboriginal coach then working with the Moncton Wildcats, faced racial slurs, war cries and the so-called "tomahawk chop" chant by arenas full of Chicoutimi Sagueneens fans in Quebec.
Nolan, a former NHL coach of the year, was left shaken and stunned by the blatant racism.
"It hurt when I was seven years old and 17 years old, and I just turned 47 and it hurt as much as it did it back then," Nolan said at the time.
Washington's second-round playoff opponent won't be determined until after Thursday night's Game 7s between Ottawa and the New York Rangers, and Florida and New Jersey.
With files from Andy Johnson