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Just like sprinter Ben Johnson a quarter-century ago, Malcolm Subban was one of us before participating in an egregious Canadian sports failure.
It is stunning that in 2013, there are still people who do not realize it is wrong to make racial comments about an athlete after not getting the desired outcome of an event. Canadians are by and large accommodating and respectful of diversity. Funny thing, though, no one disparagingly brought up the white skin of the other 21 players on Team Canada after its lopsided 5-1 loss to Team USA that extended the country's world junior championship gold-medal drought to four seasons. Only Subban, the 19-year-old Belleville Bulls goalie whose parents came to Canada from the Caribbean, was so targeted.
Twitter is a great tool, but sometimes it's strewn with the digital equivalent of bathroom graffiti. Some Canadians — perhaps spoiled by recent success, perhaps thinking the gold medal was an entitlement — made just terrible comments about Malcolm Subban. As Morgan Campbell phrased it, you can presume the racially loaded vitriol came from Canadians because "who else would get this worked up about the World Junior Hockey Championship?"
Sensitivity forbids listing tweets that used a certain racial epithet, but it was bad enough without it. No one is implying hockey fans are racists. Far from it. It was one thing to turn on Subban, it's quite another to bring race into it.
(If you have to use an "I'm not racist" hashtag, well...)
References to Subban's race did occur before Canada got hammered real good by the Americans. On Dec. 30, when Subban stoned Team USA defence star Seth Jones, who is African-American, people just had to make reference to each player's ethnicity. Why do that even when he was doing well?
It's brutal. No one should be singled out on the basis of race, least of all during a spots event. An irony here is this all went on in the same week Italian soccer club A.C. Milan and manager Massimo Ambrosini walked off the field during an exhibition match because midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng had been hearing racial abuse from fans for the first 25 minutes.
Personally, even when there is nothing the least bit racial intended, it's something that might not be good to get into in Twitter's 140-character format. For instance, one Twitter user @mattomic made a mocking reference to the Toronto Sun tabloid and its parent corporation Quebecor Media, which are typically right-wing. There was no harm intended (as explained in a long Twitter exchange), but still, it racialized a public figure for no valid reason. Why do that and let other less enlightened people think it's OK to go there, especially when something could be misinterpreted?
The same might be applied to a tweet that satirized hockey and coverage of the recent U.S. presidential election. Why start something?
(Update, 7:15 p.m. ET Jan. 4): Mike Byrne — @mbyrne74 — one Tweeter whose tweet was used, got in touch with BTN. The Ottawa-area university student donated money to the Subban family-supported Hyundai Hockey Helpers charity in exchange for having his tweet edited out of this post (and it was relatively innocuous). For a student on a budget, that is a great show of paying it forward! Some good was made today.
(From the original post): Any time the race card is played to criticize or taunt an athlete should be called out. It should be embarrassing that some Canadians revealed such an ugly side while getting caught up in the world junior championship. (Upon reflection, it's also important to realize there's a subtlety and nuance with race and social media.) The WJC is a sports media colossus and no one should apologize for it being so; the way people's buttons get pushed is a byproduct. But neither the heavy media emphasis or social media is to blame. Trolls have always found a way to put out their garbage.
Shame on them; may the rest of us try to set a good example. Fortunately, there was plenty of disbelief and disgust expressed in response. Tyler Bunz, an Edmonton Oilers farm-team goalie who was a late cut of Team Canada in 2012, stuck up for Subban.
Grow up, indeed.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.