I absolutely hated Joel Ward.
I hated him for the painful knot in my stomach, for making me want to cry, and for shocking me to the point that tears were impossible. I hated him for the way his teammates were leaping into a pile against the boards at a corner of the ice, and for how awkward my team looked as they stood at the other end. I hated him for doing what he did in my arena, while I was forced to watch my season unravel. I hated him for the way he had officially ruined an already agonizing Game Seven experience at the Garden, killing my hopes of another long, stressful summer of games and superstitions. I hated him for the fact that this would give Boston men reason to shave their playoff beards come the morning—and the fact that he’d just made a terrible week that much worse.
But I hated Joel Ward most because it was easier to hate him than hate my guys. I was going to have plenty of time to play What If over the course of the summer. There would be plenty of time to blame Milan Lucic and David Krejci. But after investing so much in them, in the team, for so long, I wasn’t ready to do that yet.
I needed to curse a safe bet—and the man who scored the season-ending goal against my team seemed like a pretty safe bet. The most logical bet, in fact.
And let me be clear about this: Color played a role in my hatred. But race had nothing to do with the anger I felt for Ward. I wasn’t looking at the color of his skin as he scored on Tim Thomas, or as he celebrated post-goal.
The color of his uniform was the issue. It wasn’t black and gold.
I didn’t go home immediately after the game. But by the time I arrived at my apartment, I read that Twitter had blown up with tweets and retweets of Boston fans who were throwing racial slurs Joel Ward’s way. And as the tweets drew attention, a seemingly natural conclusion was being drawn:
Boston Bruins fans? They’re racist. Classless. A disgrace to the game.
So let’s get this straight: I’d just had my heart broken by witnessing one of the most agonizing ways a team can lose. I was processing the reality that I wouldn’t see hockey at the Garden again for 162 days. And, on top of all that, people were remarking that I, as a Bruins fan, deserved the crushing disappointment I was feeling … because I’m racist.
There are terrible people out there who do despicable things. And then those people, because of some expressed affiliation, become the face of a large, otherwise relatively abstract group of people.
And when you’re talking about sports and a fanbase, it’s easy to start generalizing. It’s what we witnessed in Vancouver after Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, when the Canucks lost.
(To Boston. Sorry, I couldn’t help it. It’s been a rough day. Happy memories help.)
The Vancouver riots were initially described as a group of Canucks fans who decided to disrespect the game by destroying their city. But as the investigation came to reveal, we weren’t talking strictly about hockey fans. Unruly people found an excuse to be violent and destructive and used the game as an excuse. An unfortunate number of hockey fans were caught up in it. And countless Canucks fans were left apologizing for a minority of morons who had made a terrible decision—all the while defending their fanbase.Real Canucks fans wouldn’t have done that. We were all mourning the loss of the Stanley Cup. Don’t lump them in with us. We’re better than that.
As this unfolded last June, I defended those fans. I felt for them. And I thought about how unfortunate it was that they couldn’t just deal with the fact that they were feeling devastated.
And now we’re here. Some people who described themselves as Bruins fans made terrible remarks about Joel Ward last night. They were people with no class, no sense of human decency … and no respect for the game. Their team, even. Ever heard of Willie O’Ree? Look him up. Former right winger who was the first black player in the NHL.
He played for the Boston Bruins.
And now the rest of us are the ones left apologizing for the minority and defending the fanbase as a whole. I don’t agree with what was said. I am disgusted by what was said. I didn’t say any of those things.
And yet there it is. The generalization and the label. Racist.
Be angry. Be offended. I certainly am. But don’t lump me—and the rest of the loyal, passionate, classy (yes, we are) fanbase—together with a group of loudmouthed assholes who used an unfortunate moment to spread their hate.
I don’t hate Joel Ward today. The season’s over. Best of luck to him and congratulations on a career-highlight goal. I now hate knowing that this label is going to linger. And that because of some hateful idiots out there, there are a whole lot of people thinking that I deserve to feel so crushed today.