Joel Ward (right), the overtime hero for the Capitals, celebrates with teammates Karl Alzner (left) and John Carlson (74) after eliminating the Bruins on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
If you happened to be monitoring Twitter Wednesday night you might have thought you'd been transported in time and location to the Deep South, circa 1960.
Or maybe even 1860.
In an appalling display of racism, some hockey fans took to the social media site to vent anger about an overtime goal by Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, a 31-year-old black Canadian whose parents immigrated to Ontario from Barbados.
At least 40 people, many of them discouraged Boston Bruins fans who had just seen the defending Stanley Cup champions eliminated from the playoffs, used twitter to denounce the goal being scored by a "n-----."
The offensive tweets were picked up by news outlets across North America, allowing a small minority of bigots to unfairly cast Bruins fans in a bad light, and sparking outrage among readers.
Somehow, with all the growing we've done as a society during the past few decades there still are people who not only harbour this kind of hatred but are willing to freely spew it in a public forum.
Despite the fact these snakes hide behind cute profile names on social media, their venom is still dangerous.
Twitter itself has become viperous, especially when users don't recognize its power.
Pro athletes have learned the hard way that what you post is public domain and can be reprinted anywhere in the world.
Wednesday's shameful display of keyboard courage combined with ignorance is proof that Twitter is a vehicle for lowlifes and misguided twits who want to hide behind anonymity. If ever there was an argument that the social media site should do more to identify its users, this is it.
These Neanderthals who chose to focus on the colour of Joel Ward's skin probably had no idea their racist comments would draw international attention, that they'd make Bruins fans look horrible, that they'd draw the NHL into its second race-fuelled controversy of the season.
Back in September, a fan at an exhibition game in London, Ont., threw a banana at Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds as he took a shootout attempt. Fan Christopher Moorhouse, 26, was charged with engaging in prohibited behaviour and fined $200.
Simmonds and other black NHL players shrugged off the incident, saying they've come to expect a certain amount of racism while playing a largely white sport.
To be honest, that black players have to have those kinds of expectations is simply not acceptable.
That Ward has to hear about those types of reactions in this day and age is truly sickening.
The man plays in a country that has a black president. He even resides in the same city as Barack Obama. Somehow you would think he'd be able to score the biggest goal of his life without being subjected to such prejudiced taunts.
A total of 28 black players skated with NHL teams this season, including big names Jarome Iginla (32 goals) of the Calgary Flames, Dustin Byfuglien (53 points) and Evander Kane (30 goals) of the Winnipeg Jets and Simmonds (28 goals).
In NHL history there have been 71 black players, including Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr.
There have been black hockey players in the NHL since 1958, when Willie O'Ree broke the colour barrier and became heralded as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey."
Guess which team he broke in with?
That's right, the Boston Bruins.
TWEETS AND REACTIONS REGARDING WARD
"We lost to a hockey-playing n----- ... what kind of s--- is this"
Tweet from @Mahdawg_Jake
"Stupid n----- go play basketball hockey is a white sport"
Tweet from @Zvanasse30
"It doesn't surprise me at all. We have so many ignorant people on the planet who think a sport is only for a certain race."
Former CFL and NFL player Willard Reaves, whose son, Ryan, plays for the St. Louis Blues
"I'm definitely getting a lot of support. There have been a lot of Boston fans who have supported me, which is very cool to see."
Joel Ward to USA Today
"(Teammate) Jeff Halpern just took offence that people weren't talking about the goal, (but rather) getting into racist remarks."
Ward to USA Today
"You don't react. Everybody has their own opinion. You can't control anybody's words or thoughts. To be honest with you, I haven't experienced any of it. I just look forward to playing the game. Anything racial I don't worry about."
Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Chris Garrett
"Shame on these folks who decided to take to their keyboards and show their ignorance and their racism and hate."
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on his blog
"What these people have said and done is unforgivable. I hope they are now publicly identified and pay a huge price for their beliefs."