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Why judging a fan base based on the racists makes you no better than them

Harrison Mooney
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The look of shock on the kid's face behind Ward is priceless.

Because I am a person of color, I often find myself in conversation with people who feel the need to insist to me that they aren't racist (despite the fact that I rarely, if ever, ask). More than once, the explanation for why these individuals don't hold a prejudice against persons of color has gone a little something like this:

"I don't see why anyone could ever have a problem with black people. Every one I've ever met has been nothing but kind to me."

My thinking is always the same: If you're basing your non-prejudice on the fact that you've never met a black guy (or a gay guy, or a religious person, or a hockey fan, or a member of any other group) that's also happened to be a total asshat, you're likely to become prejudiced before long.

I couldn't help but think of this as the hockey world recoiled Wednesday night at the barrage of racism directed towards Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward in the wake of his overtime goal, which eliminated Tim Thomas and the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Ward, who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, is of Barbadian descent, so you can probably surmise just what sort of stuff was said about him. No doubt there was a great, totally harmless joke to be made about the irony of Tim Thomas snubbing a black man in Washington, only to be eliminated by another black man in Washington four months later, and many attempted to make it. Others, however, just spewed heinous, racist vitriol at Ward for having the nerve to eliminate the Bruins while also being black.

(Someone was kind enough to preserve the outpouring of this sludge on Chirpstory, although if you have any knowledge of the sorts of things racists say to black people, there's nothing new to be found by wading into it.)

You have to feel for Ward, who was already headed to the interview circuit after scoring the winning goal, but will now find his clutch tally bumped down the priorities list in favor of a string of inquiries about whether or not he thinks racism is despicable. You could sense Ward's tacit resignation over this inevitability in agent Peter Cooney's comments to the Globe & Mail:

"It's appalling," he said. "Where we are in North America now, it's hard to believe we still have that prejudice. It's disturbing. It's really disgraceful."

Cooney added that Ward is doing his best to ignore the comments.

"He's put it in his back pocket so to speak," Cooney said. "He knows he's going to have interviews and people talking about it. He's heard about it, but he said 'Peter, don't worry - that stuff never bothered me.' "

I recall Wayne Simmonds having a similar reaction to the banana-throwing incident. I contacted his agent for comment the next day, only to be told they had decided to answer any questions people had about the issue until 1 p.m. ET. And then they would be done. That's just sort of how you have to deal with this: be a good sport, run out the circuit, and establish an exit strategy so people don't keep talking about it in perpetuity and you can at some point get back to hockey.

(Ironically and unsurprisingly, Simmonds was also asked about this most recent controversy.)

Anyway. Suffice it to say, this controversy doesn't reflect the Bruins or their fans in a positive light, but since none of these tweets came from within the Bruins organization, they released a brief statement Thursday afternoon denouncing the people who sent them. Easy as pie.

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For Boston fans, however, it's not as easy as releasing a statement. The morons behind those racist tweets do represent them, like that black guy I can only hope never meets the easily prejudiced before I do.

Here's the cold, hard fact: If you are a fan of a hockey team -- or heck, any team in any sport -- then it's pretty much a given that you share the fandom with some vile, racist, ignorant people.

Shortly after the Vancouver riot, the municipality and the Canucks organization rushed to differentiate between the rioters (anarchists, the lot of them!) and the "true Canuck fans." It was hogwash. Sure, some people went downtown just to light things on fire, but many of the rioters bleed -- and were wearing -- blue and green.

Shortly after those Flyers fans beat up the New York police officer at the Winter Classic, many attempted to establish that they weren't "true Flyers fans." But of course they were. Are we supposed to believe the one guy bought a Claude Giroux Winter Classic jersey just to commit a felony in it? What's the sense in that? In many cases, after you commit a felony, the government gives you orange clothing for free.

And anyone who would attempt to say these Bruins fans aren't "true Bruins fans" is talking the same nonsense, although we should note that, at some point, racist fans of other teams couldn't resist the temptation to join in, which just underscores the point that there are unconscionable dumbasses like this in every fan base.

Many of these people are Boston fans. They're also scumbags. The two groups are not and will never be mutually exclusive, and the same is the case for pretty much every race, sexual orientation, religion and fan base on the planet. The truth is that some but not all Bruins fans are racist and some but not all Canucks fans will riot if they get half a chance.

Flip "Canucks" and "Bruins" in that sentence and it remains true.

This is why allowing your opinion of any social group to be shaped by the members of that group that you encounter is a one-way ticket to bigotville. Much of prejudice is the result of broad, unthinking generalizations.

People need to be judged on an individual basis, not based on what minority or special interest group they belong to, and if you can't do that, you're really no better than the people about whom Joel Ward is now forced to answer questions for the rest of the day.

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