The beauty of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban isn’t just his brown skin, but the thickness of it.
It allows him to not only play in the intense hockey fishbowl that is Montreal but to thrive in the environment. It lets him deflect criticism in some media and National Hockey League circles that he’s nothing more than a flashy, mouthy, high risk-high, high reward defenseman who can’t be trusted with a game on the line.
It allowed the indignity of being the reigning Norris Trophy winner – the prize awarded the NHL’s best defenseman – but only playing 11 minutes for Team Canada Head Coach Mike Babcock during the entire 2014 Winter Olympics roll off his back and not prevent him from enjoying his experience in Sochi, Russia.
It allowed him to ignore the torrent of boos from Boston Bruins fans at TD Bank Garden Thursday night to score two goals, including the double overtime blast from the blue line that gave the Canadiens a 4-3 victory in the first game of their second-round their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Boston.
The thickness of Subban’s hide is probably also allowing him to tune out what’s hopefully a sub-section of hockey fans who, infused with keyboard courage and maybe a beer or five, took to their electronic devices after Thursday’s game and let loose some racist emails and tweets aimed at Subban. The N-word, porch monkey, and other outdated racial epithets flashed onto social media no sooner did Subban’s goal hit the back of the Boston net.
The ugly episode had the same modus operandi as when Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward scored a playoff series-ending goal against the Bruins in 2012. That deluge of hate prompted Bruins management and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman to issue statements condemning those so-called fans.
Friday, the Bruins oranization once again found itself admonishing the less-enlightened element of the team’s fan base.
“The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,” team President Cam Neely said in a statement issued by the team.
Political leaders in Boston, a city that has had its struggles with race in the past, also voiced disdain about the racial hate directed at Subban.
“This is a disgrace. These racist comments are not reflective of Boston, and are not reflective of Bruins fans,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said. “I’ve said before that the best hockey in the world happens when the Bruins and Canadiens play each other, and there is no room for this kind of ignorance here.”
Matt Larkin, an associate editor of The Hockey News tweeted: To the people tweeting racist crap about P.K. Subban: you are human garbage, living in the wrong millennium.”
Other tweets and emails raised interesting questions. What do these alleged Bruins fans say or do when black Boston forward Jarome Iginla scores a goal? What will they do if and when top Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban, P.K.’s younger brother who recently completed his rookie season with the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins, plays for the big club?
When Willie O’Ree made history in 1958 as the NHL’s first black player, he did it wearing a Boston Bruins jersey. Ironically, O’Ree did it playing against the Canadiens in Montreal. Hockey has come a long way since then. But the racist messages hurled at Subban shows how much farther the game has to go.