WINNIPEG - The phone message started out benignly enough, just a Winnipeg Jets fan who was frustrated by his inability to land tickets and needed a place to vent.
It happens quite often. People aren’t sure exactly who to call when their blood is boiling, so they call the newspaper.
Sometimes we can help them and sometimes it helps us land a good story.
But sometimes people are just downright offensive and this was one of those times.
The caller shocked me and several other people in the newsroom by using a racial slur to describe the Winnipeg Jets.
“Mark Chipman can take that (F bomb), (N bomb) hockey team of his and shove it up his ass.”
There are few words to describe how discouraging it is to hear someone talk that way.
The caller clearly was referring to the fact the Jets have four black players: Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Johnny Oduya and Kenndal McArdle.
It was surprising to hear that kind of bigotry in Winnipeg and even more shocking to see the act of overt racism that was displayed Thursday night in London, Ont., when a fan threw a banana on the ice while Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers was taking a shootout attempt.
It’s hard to believe the banana-throwing incident happened in Canada.
I’m not naive enough to believe Canadians are incapable of such hatred, but it’s still disturbing to see such blatant racism right in our own backyard, surrounding a hockey game, our unofficial national pastime.
“There’s always going to be stupid people,” Oduya said after practice Friday.
True. Incidents of racism involving black people in the southern United States have been widely documented and they are still far too frequent despite major steps in the right direction in recent decades. You might not be so surprised if you heard about an incident like this happening in the deep south.
But this was southern Ontario. And our caller was in southern Manitoba.
It’s certainly not the kind of attitude we expected black players moving from Atlanta to Canada to encounter.
“It’s not going to change,” Oduya said. “It doesn’t matter where you go. At least it didn’t happen over here, so that was good.”
There are about 30 black players in the NHL right now and the fact it’s even a stat is proof enough that too few people are able to simply say a hockey player is a hockey player, regardless of colour.
They’re Canadians, Americans, even Swedes, in Oduya’s case. Why would the colour of their skin have anything whatsoever to do with their ability to play hockey?
Truth is, lots of people leave offensive messages on my answering machine. When you’re in this business, you are a target for people who disagree with you and an outlet for people who simply need to get things off their chests. It’s part of the game.
But this message was particularly disturbing. Made me sick actually.
And so does the incident in London, where some fan probably thought he was being funny, but ended up making our entire country look bad.