[Updated at 2:26 p.m. ET] As Joel Ward’s Washington Capitals teammates swarmed their new hero after his playoff series-winning goal against the NHL’s defending champions Wednesday night, more sinister emotions were swirling on social media.
A number of people took to Twitter with racist comments, calling Ward – one of about 20 black men currently on National Hockey League rosters – the N-word after the Capitals beat the host Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime of Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.
Perhaps to those tweeters’ surprise, someone collected 40 of those tweets and put them in one place: Chirpstory, a site where one can aggregate other people’s Twitter posts for posterity.
The posts included:
– “Haha that (slur) actually did something.”
– “The fact that a (slur) got the goal makes it ten times worse.”
– “We lost … To a hockey playing (slur)…. What kind of (expletive) is this.”
To what should be no one’s surprise, the posts caught the attention of sports celebrities and media Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
“Despite a black president, things haven't changed,” sports columnist and ESPN “First Take” contributor Rob Parker tweeted Thursday morning.
“Thought times have changed? Is this real?” former Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington tweeted.
As the collection of offensive tweets made its way through social media – Canadian broadcaster CTV was among the media outlets to notice them early – some of the people behind the original posts started shying away from the growing attention. By late Thursday morning, several of the tweeters in the Chirpstory collection had removed or hidden their Twitter accounts.
Others still had the posts on their own Twitter pages, and still others had removed the original posts but added posts either ridiculing the angry reaction they were getting or saying that they aren’t racist.
The National Hockey League, the Capitals and the Bruins also took notice.
"The racially charged comments distributed via digital media following last night's game were ignorant and unacceptable," the NHL said Thursday. "The people responsible for these comments have no place associating themselves with our game."
The Bruins released a statement saying they were disappointed, and that the "classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization." The Capitals' statement said that the comments were unacceptable, and that they are "outraged by those individuals who expressed such ignorant comments."
This isn’t the NHL’s first racially tinged incident to grab headlines this season. In September, a fan threw a banana onto the ice as a black player, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds, prepared to take a penalty shot during an exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ontario.
Racially charged outbursts in sports, on Twitter and on the field of play (as Liverpool and Manchester United fans well know), are nothing new. A search for the N-word and any sports team on the social media site will yield a number of offensive results.
But the messages that flew Wednesday night won’t help the image of a sport in which few black men play professionally, and in which those that do fight stereotypes. “This guy can’t stand on skates,” the Winnipeg Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien, who is black, once said, recalling what people had said about him.
Coincidentally, the team that many of the N-word tweeters were supporting – the Bruins – was the first NHL club to feature a black player: Willie O'Ree, in January 1958.