Sick message says a lot

Jets defenceman Johnny Oduya is one of four black players on the club's roster. (JOCELYN...

Jets defenceman Johnny Oduya is one of four black players on the club's roster. (JOCELYN MALETTE/QMI Agency file photo)


, Last Updated: 12:47 AM ET

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 arenít 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.

ďMark Chipman can take that (F bomb), (N bomb) hockey team of his and shove it up his ass.Ē

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.

Itís hard to believe the banana-throwing incident happened in Canada.

Iím not naive enough to believe Canadians are incapable of such hatred, but itís still disturbing to see such blatant racism right in our own backyard, surrounding a hockey game, our unofficial national pastime.

ďThereís always going to be stupid people,Ē 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.

Itís certainly not the kind of attitude we expected black players moving from Atlanta to Canada to encounter.

ďItís not going to change,Ē Oduya said. ďIt doesnít matter where you go. At least it didnít happen over here, so that was good.Ē

There are about 30 black players in the NHL right now and the fact itís 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.

Theyíre Canadians, Americans, even Swedes, in Oduyaís 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 youíre 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. Itís 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.