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So goes the maxim, as oft attributed to Mark Twain as to Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”.

Twitter is, for so many of us (yours truly included) the loudspeaker for a great deal of idiocy.  It’s also a permanent archive.  The latter is why I find it so disturbing that many Boston Bruins fans are playing the “nigger” card in calling out Washington Capitals 4th-liner Joel Ward for his overtime heartbreaker goal, thus crushing the hope of Bruins fans that there could be a repeat of their Stanley Cup theft victory from 2011.  Spout racist comments from behind closed doors or with your beltline polishing the brass rail at the local public house, and I will be disappointed but unsurprised.  Belt out your ignorance via Twitter and you are essentially telling me that you think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with insulting and denigrating an entire group of people simply because of their skin tone.

Kudos to Caps’ owner Ted Leonsis for taking a stand against such keyboard courage on his blog.  Let these tweets serve as a permanent display of the ignorance of their authors.

I cannot help but think that embers of this racism were most certainly fanned by Tim Thomas’ very public snub of Obama for the White House visit for Stanley Cup champs earlier this season.  His actions and words, along with those of the Tea Party that he so adamantly supports, very often cross the line into baldfaced racism when it comes to criticizing Obama.  In fact, the polarizing rhetoric of the past 5 years has likely led to a rise in racism (or at least a rise in the open expression of latent racism) in America, and it’s increasingly disturbing to see the various ways in which that seeps through the cracks in society.

The NHL (and hockey, and sports in general) has always maintained an awkward relationship with racism, as the infamous banana peel incident that started the 2011-2012 season illustrated.  Whether the banana peel was an oblique reference to NHL player Wayne Simmons’ race or not is up for grabs, but the fact that so many people leapt to assume that it was betrays what most of us already know — that racism in the ranks of the NHL, and its fans, is indeed rampant.  And that’s disappointing.

Where players such as Tim Thomas use their prominence to give rise to racist thoughts or ideas, the NHL has an obligation to institute campaigns, penalties, and programs to communicate to players AND to fans that this is NOT acceptable behaviour and that racism needs to be ejected from hockey and every other corner of society.  While it’s too late to police Tim Thomas, he could go a long way to establishing himself as a class act by speaking out publicly against this racism.

And to the Bruins fans who tweeted “what has Joel Ward ever done?” I will say this:

Joel Ward fought through two decades of bigotry and name-calling, exclusion and ignorance — on top of the hard work and uncertainty that it takes to get one of the fewer than 900 available jobs as an NHL player — so that he could score the game-winning goal that knocked the defending champions out of contention for the 2012 Stanley Cup.  All while you sat on your La-Z-Boy and tweeted about it.

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