The obscenely racist tweets (which will not be re-posted here) aimed at Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward is the most disgusting behavior by sports fans in my lifetime. Dozens of hockey fans upset at Ward's Game 7 overtime winner against the Bruins Wednesday night took to Twitter and instead of focusing on the heartbreaking loss/dramatic win decided to focus on Joel Ward's race by unleashing an unforgivable display of intense public racism that many had hoped couldn't possibly take place anymore. These hockey fans seemingly had no inhibitions of posting their racist language for the whole world to see, with some referring to hockey as a "white man's game" and telling Ward to "go play basketball". While this small group of people should in no way be seen as a representative of hockey fans in general it is disturbing that so many people felt that posting such comments was somehow OK.
Ward, to his credit, isn't letting it get to him, saying that the racist tweets "Didn't ruin my day". Good for him, he just scored a Game 7 OT winner to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions, the only thing he should be worried about is where in his house he is going to hang a framed photograph of himself and his teammates celebrating the biggest goal of his career. None of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe ever scored a Game 7 OT winner, but Joel Ward has, and not a single thing said on Twitter can ever take that away from him.
I only wish this was an isolated incident, but the marriage of sports, sports fans, and Twitter seems to have outed a racism problem that many might have believed wasn't prominent and possibly didn't exist at all.
Last month Fabrice Muamba went into cardiac arrest on the football pitch in London as thousands of horrified spectators watched in the stands and millions watched around the world. His heart didn't beat for 78 minutes, and his life could have easily ended. In the middle of this near tragic occurrence English student Liam Stacey decided to write a series of racist tweets directed at Muamba. The response to Liam Stacey's tweets was a 56 day jail sentence, but I wouldn't expect the same result for those whose hatred was directed towards Joel Ward.
FIFA has taken a hard stance on racism in soccer. As the sport most widely played around the world soccer needs to and has taken the lead on not just embracing but celebrating multi-culturalism. For all FIFA's corruption and unethical business practices you can't ignore the work they have done to try and use football/soccer as a bridge towards a world without discrimination and one that celebrates diversity.
Doesn't matter if you are a player, coach, trainer, ref, or fan; if you are in a stadium during a sanctioned FIFA game, racist behavior will not be tolerated.
Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes states:
"Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion."
"Furthermore, the Disciplinary Code must be obeyed by all the associations and their respective members, including clubs, officials, players, match officials as well as any other persons FIFA admits to a match or competition, including spectators."
In addition to penalizing players, coaches, and fans for racist behavior or comments, FIFA has sunk millions into creating awareness about the importance of ending racial discrimination. You cannot attend a FIFA sanctioned game without seeing banners adorning the sidelines with the words "Stop Racism" and messages over the loud speaker letting the whole stadium know about FIFA's commitment to ending racism in football.
FIFA recognizes that sports are a way to bridge the divide between countries and people of all backgrounds. People in every country across the world love sports (with soccer being the most loved) and FIFA's Stop Racism campaign is an attempt to use this mutual appreciation of the sport as a way to unite people, not to pit them against each other.
Fifa's campaign is not the first time that sports have been used as a way to unite people. You don't need to be a Rugby fan to know of the importance surrounding the 1995 World Cup, you need only be a fan of Morgan Freeman movies. Apartheid had just ended and South Africans had spent decades divided by racial injustice, but during the World Cup of Rugby the country was united in their love of sport, and celebrated together when they conquered the Rugby world. And while the remnants of Apartheid are still found in South Africa, the contributions to celebrated diversity that Rugby made to the country were and are significant.
Now it seems that the racism puck has dropped on the National Hockey League's ice. They have the choice to either do nothing or to step up and, like FIFA, use sport as a way to end discrimination instead of promoting it. We have yet to see the National Hockey League take action on concussions, head shots, or fighting so perhaps if Gary Bettman and company decide that stamping out racism isn't on their agenda it's time to seriously question the leadership of hockey's most prominent league.