In 1958, winger Willie O'Ree became the first African American athlete to play in the NHL. Which team was responsible for breaking the color barrier? The Boston Bruins.
The second and third black players in the NHL were Mike Marson and Bill Riley, both signed by the Washington Capitals.
More than half a century since O'Ree's NHL debut, this week's April 25 game between the Caps and Bruins has thrust racial issues into the spotlight again. After Washington's Joel Ward clinched the winning goal against Boston, dozens of angry Tweets started appearing, using vile, derogatory, racist slurs -- some also threatening violence.
I'm an African-American. I'm also an owner of the Caps. I was born during the era of segregation. And I'm sickened and discouraged to be reminded such ignorance and hatred persists. It's been almost 50 Years since the March on Washington. It's 2012, people! Have we learned nothing? Even one racially offensive Tweet is too many. There is no place for this in hockey, or anywhere.
I couldn't be prouder of Joel Ward himself, who has shrugged off the online attacks; he said in an interview with USA Today, "There have been a lot of Boston fans who have supported me, which is very cool to see. No hard feelings from me. This is a game."
But if we want this game to be the best that it can be, then we need to make sure the game belongs to everyone; and that every child who loves to pick up a stick and get on the ice knows that he or she is welcome in the sport. On this issue, we should all be on the same team.
And beyond the rink, let's each do our part to fight racism and intolerance wherever it appears--to fight bad speech with good speech, to challenge prejudice with knowledge, and to stand up for what is right.