One day after the Montreal Canadiens win against the Boston Bruins in game one of their Eastern Conference quarter final, the talk of many news outlets was the Twitter comments by self admitted Bruins fans being racist towards Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban.
I wrote about this back in December for Last Word on Sports (link might be temporarily down so here is the Google cached) and I’m sure many others wrote about it when it first started to pop up. The fact this is finally becoming mainstream news is peculiar to me since most hockey fans knew about it for a long time. Probably the greatest example of, “We’re not covering this because we feel it’s necessary but more because we just don’t like Boston” is CBS Detroit, who had the lack of integrity to make their headline “Boston Strong?” and play off a term of endearment from a tragedy that had nothing to do with hockey. They have since changed the headline.
Over and over I see the same remarks made about the issue in that the Boston Bruins fans who wrote it are not “real” fans and that putting too much focus on the Boston Bruins is wrong. The truth is that there’s no such thing as a “real” fan. You claim to be a fan and you are a fan. That’s how it is. Unless you’re actually a fan of another team and masquerading as a Bruins fan just to demean their image (which people have actually claimed on the Boston Herald comment section), every racist wearing the spoked B is a Boston Bruins fan. What’s important is for other Boston Bruins fans to say to these guys that they do not belong. That was also the point of my LWOS article. Bruins fans need to call other Bruins fans out because they certainly are not listening to anyone else. It’s easy to take these accusations personal and ask, “But what about the other racists?” but just because there’s racism in the Congo doesn’t mean it can be ignored in North America. Everyone needs to be confronted, but in the news now is Boston. Trust me, I’m fully aware that the some of the same people going after Bruins fans for racism have openly supported the murder of innocent people. Photo via Patrick Power Jr. and PeeJay1388:
But while the most recent issue is about the Boston Bruins, and it seems to come up every single game in which Subban scores a goal against the Bruins that the words fly, Boston is not racist. More importantly, the people of Boston are very progressive as a collective. I’m more than familiar with the racist undertone history of Boston as early as the 1980s and what’s going on with Subban is just that, a racial undertone.
Some might liken this situation to Donald Sterling but Boston Bruins president Cam Neely put a stop to that quickly in a statement posted on the teams website. “The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,” said Neely. I applaud Neely for speaking up.
What bewilders some fans is why exactly would Bruins fans express hate and racism towards P.K. when his own brother is a first round pick and top prospect of the organization currently playing goal in Providence. It certainly doesn’t make Malcolm very comfortable to see the reactions toward his brother by people who are supposed to one day cheer for him. Or the fact that one of the best black hockey players of all time is on the first line of the Bruins today in Jarome Iginla. What must be going through his mind during this stuff?
This is where we get into the scary truth of this type of ignorance. I don’t think these fans are blind to the hypocrisy. They know it quite well. But P.K. Subban is not their player so this sort of hate is acceptable. And if it was Iginla in a Habs uniform, he’d receive the same. For lack of any better term, Iginla is “their” nigger. Malcom is “their” nigger. So there’s no need to say that about him. But P.K.? He’s not.
This exemplifies the racism in these people. The same Boston Celtics fans who took pride in their white starters in the 80s were fine with the black starters in the 00s because it was “their” black basketball players. It wasn’t the Lakers. The same fear came to Los Angeles Clippers players seeing Donald Sterling’s remarks because they felt like as the owner of the team, he was owning these men. Owning black men. It’s a deep seeded level of hate and ignorance that has been growing for decades. It didn’t die when America voted in a black President. It still exists yet we act like racism is something that ended in the 1960s.
But this goes beyond just racism. This is discrimination that we see on countless levels. Whether ethnicity, race, gender or religion, there’s a problem and we don’t always confront it the right way. The reactions to Stephen Colbert and Patton Oswalt’s satire was the wrong way to confront it because the problem isn’t in the words but the power behind them. Why it’s being said. I’m sure you are uncomfortable when you read me write nigger but saying “the N word” is even worse to me because it tries to sidestep the ugliness of the word. And we’ve allowed people to sidestep the ugliness of that word but use the power behind it with other words. Lee Atwater, the Republican party strategist for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush once said:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
We pay attention to the Bruins fans that have said the word but we don’t pay attention to the countless ways people say it in different ways. The reaction to Richard Sherman was one of the first times it has been actually covered properly. There’s actually a good way it’s explained by a Vancouver Sun Sports blog about Subban. You can’t ignore ignorance. You also can’t just ban a word because then the ignorant will find a thesaurus. Not only do we need to call out the racists towards Subban, we need to call out the subtle racists that judge him differently from other players. We need to call out Don Cherry when he judges a French Canadian or European differently from a player from Ontario or Alberta. We need to call out hockey fans who use “woman” and “girl” as an insult to another hockey player (am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that when someone calls Sidney Crosby a girl, they are saying the best hockey player in the world is a woman? Doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of your sexist remark?) and question whether a French Canadian analyst complains about the Canadiens drafting because he’s loyal to his province or if he’s biased against Anglophones.
Boston is not racist. Boston is located in a racist world. It’s up to those who are not racist to change that world. This is only partially a Boston problem.