Clutched inside the massive palms of Fargo Force defenseman Justin Wade was an iPhone 4 scrolling through a Twitter feed.
It was on this Twitter feed where Wade saw the comments of Boston Bruins fans who called Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, who is black, the “n-word” for scoring a game-winning goal in Wednesday’s Game 7 victory.
As Wade looked at the Twitter profiles, he saw one of the people was wearing a Fighting Irish shirt. It gave him a face to the slurs and in Wade’s case the realization that even among fans of his future school, there are some people who may not be in his corner because he’s black.
“It doesn’t surprise me because there are people whether its on blogs or Twitter where you can be anonymous so it gives people that invisible shield of ‘You don’t know me,’” Wade said. “It gives people a little more balls to have that. Its something you are going to have to live with in terms of people who are backwards thinking and will say things like that. I don’t think they understand the impact it has on the younger generation or of any black athlete. Especially the ones coming into hockey.”
This latest incident keeps adding to what is becoming a stigma growing through the sporting world that maybe hockey and diversity might not work together after all.
It has been debated hockey is possibly more forward-thinking than its North American counterparts – the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball – when it comes to issues such as those surrounding the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community.
Hockey players, personnel and icons such as Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke, who’s son Brendan was gay, have said the NHL could be ready for its first openly-gay player in a few years.
But as hockey hopes to evolve to that point it still faces an issue when it comes the thought of anyone of African or Caribbean decent worrying about racial epithets. Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, in the course of two weeks, went from being victim of a banana peel thrown near him during a pre-season game to using a homophobic slur towards gay rights advocate and former New York Rangers forward Sean Avery.
Since then, the NHL has seen other issues such as Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban being the victim of a racial epithet or the controversial decision by Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres and his wife dressing in blackface as they were trying to look the part of music moguls/power couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Down the hall from Wade at Scheels Arena was Lincoln Stars goaltender Charles Williams (Ferris State), who is also black. Williams, who is from the Detroit suburb of Canton, Mich., said he and his brother, Des Moines’ defenseman Wayland Williams, along with their parents have been subjected to racial slurs.
Williams said he found a way to deal with the negative comments.
“I just used it as motivation more than anything,” Williams said. “I have had a few incidents in the past and I’ve been able to put it to the side and use it as motivation. I just try to keep it away from my teammates and keep going steadfast in my path.”
Both Williams and Wade, who know each other well, acknowledged Ward was just someone doing his job and he shouldn’t be subjected to racial slurs whether they be on Twitter or anywhere else.
They also agreed a reality such as that may not happen right away. That there are some people who wouldn’t get the picture even if the flash was on.
But the hope is someday the only issue at hand is the game on the ice.
“I hope for Ward, hearing the racial slurs is motivation for him too,” Williams said. “He’ll probably do better than he did last year in the playoffs. Hearing things like this will probably just up his game even more.”