Column: NHL needs more diversity to combat racist slurs

By Kelly Erickson

Badger Herald, U. Wisconsin via UWIRE

While it’s a topic somewhat removed now, I can’t help but shake off the nagging thoughts that came immediately after the Washington Capital’s right-winger Joel Ward ended the Boston Bruins season.

Fans, not only loyal to Boston, but other NHL teams as well, took to Twitter expressing their disappointment in the most racist of ways. Seemingly angry at the prospect that Ward, who is black, scored the game winner, people took to the social networking site and called him the n-word on countless occasions, almost as if to say Boston’s loss was compounded by the color of Ward’s skin.

Multiple tweets concerning the issue claimed hockey is a “white man’s game.” One even went so far as to exclaim, “white power!”

Here few examples of some of the egregious comments from fans:

One fan tweeted “#bruins just got beat by a n* I thought hockey was a white man’s game #wtf fuck ward.”

Another wrote minutes later, “Fucking stupid arrogant, smelly, useless, waste of life, sad excuse for a NHL hockey playing N*.”

Soon after, another tweeted “Can’t believe Boston just let a sand n* beat them #gobacktothejungle.”

Finally one fan just couldn’t string together a competent thought and just repeatedly tweeted the n-word along with a string of other profanities that would surely earn their mouth some quality time with a bar of soap.

Fans certainly take sports over the top seomtimes. But to go so far as to react in such a childish and uncivilized way is simply unacceptable. Just because it’s sports doesn’t make racist slurs OK, or any other sort of slur for that matter.

Those fans who took to the Internet and expressed their anger at a man not because he scored the game-winner, but because of the color of his skin in addition to scoring the game-winning goal, effectively crossed a line.

These racist comments — while unwarranted, unnecessary and completely idiotic — arise out of the fact that there are few black players in the National Hockey League.

Ward is one of only 28 active players in the NHL who are at least partially black. During the regular season, teams have a maximum of 23 players on their active roster, making for 690 active players in the league. But they can have 50 players under contract, meaning there at 1,500 players under an NHL contract at any given moment during the season. Essentially, 28 players out of 690 active players is miniscule (about 4 percent), much less 28 out of the 1,500 under contract.

Hockey is certainly a sport that needs to diversify. Not that the NHL is a racist organization or anything of that matter. Rather, it’s the circumstances surrounding the game that continue to hold back diversity.

If you didn’t already know, hockey is an expensive sport to play. The sheer cost of equipment from peewees to high school to whichever level one continues to play, is astronomical. As a result, in order to play the sport, you have to be able to afford it. For many, the costs are too much and therefore they can’t play.

In an attempt to not over generalize here, those with lower socioeconomic status can’t afford to play the game. According to a 2007 study by the National center for Education Statistics, African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children.

In order to introduce more diversity, the sport itself needs to find ways to offer kids the chance to play even if they can’t afford it. The NHL, USA Hockey or various other hockey organizations throughout the country need to host hockey days, particularly in inner cities, giving kids a chance to learn to skate and try the game for free. The costs can be covered through donations and funds that these organizations already have or can start fundraisers for. Either way, if the sport wants more diversity, it needs to help create it.

Much like the Mighty Ducks, kids just need someone to show them how to play and find a means of playing. None of them had great equipment — at least until Gordon Bombay helped change that — but they loved the sport so they found ways to play. More kids need that chance which the NHL and other hockey organizations can help provide.

Nothing can excuse how the Boston fans reacted to Ward’s goal and simply how degrading their comments were, but one way the NHL can help prevent situations like that in the future is to help create some diversity now and continue to foster it in the future.

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