Once again, Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella’s mouth has served as a diving board that’s plunged him into the deep waters of race.
The fiery coach was displeased with his team’s effort in a 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues Saturday night.
He called out his players for their performance but he also had a curious choice of words in describing Blues tough guy forward Ryan Reaves, who fought Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno in the second period.
“I watched Nick Foligno fight that animal,” Tortorella told reporters after the game.
Tortorella may know hockey but he apparently doesn’t know that certain words when aimed toward certain people can have racial connotations.
Calling a black player like Reaves “that animal” didn’t sit well with several hockey fans, judging by the online reaction to Tortorella’s words.
It’s hard to determine what Tortorella’s intent was in calling Reaves an animal. Apparently no one at the post-game press conference asked the coach to elaborate on his comment.
Several words can be used to describe Reaves – enforcer, fighter, tough guy, pugilist, or the old-school hockey phrase “goon,” if you must. So the use of “animal” is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Tortorella knows that he needs to choose his words carefully. Just a few days ago, he employed verbal restraint before getting too salty before the cameras.
The use of the word “animal” conjures up some bad hockey memories for some. Val James, the NHL’s first U.S.-born black player, was often called an animal, a monkey, a gorilla, or some other primate during a professional career that spanned the 1970s and 80s.
James, who was one of the game’s most-feared fighters, once told me of the time that he was sitting in the penalty box during a minor league game when two people dangled a fishing line down to him with a toy monkey attached to it.
The taunt aimed at James was so appalling that the game’s referee – current U.S. Congressman Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania – threatened to end the game and call it a forfeit against the home team if the two tormentors weren’t ejected from the arena.
Philadelphia Flyers star forward Wayne Simmonds got the less-than-human treatment in 2011 when a so-called fan threw a banana toward him during a pre-season game in London, Ont. NHL broadcaster Kevin Weekes had a banana tossed at him in Montreal in 2002 when he played goal for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Tortorella stirred controversy at the World Cup of Hockey in September when he said he would bench any of his Team USA players if they followed San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest and not stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick is protesting what he feels is the oppressive treatment of blacks in the United States.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, who wasn’t on the U.S. World Cup of Hockey squad, criticized Tortorella’s criticism in a tweet that said “Wouldn’t benching a black man for taking a stance only further prove Kap’s point of oppression?”
Brown told The Tampa Bay Times that Tortorella “sees the situation through his reality and I see it through mine, as a black athlete in the NHL.”
John Paris Jr. said:
Take a deep breath and be careful before we all jump upon Tortorella, considering him a racist or anything similar, why? Many to-day are unaware of what players of color were really called, someone mentioned Valmore James as an example, we should remember not too many over 70 year olds or more, who were involved in the game at a time when you could be attacked while walking to the arena door, without any form of support other than your teammates, ownership & even then at times questionable. The objective is not to discuss personal happenings, it is to enlighten about Tortorella & his comment! Many remain simply unaware of micro aggression or how words may be perceived, according to different ethnic or cultural groups, this does not make it correct, however, it does not make him a racist either, just someone in need of a better vocabulary expression. I am not defending him, he can do this himself and should. I need to make it clear “I” have heard animal over an over, during multiple decades and this hurled toward Caucasian tough guys or want to be ones, word of note – I never used this terminology but many other coaches did. I have challenged at times players, under the heat of the moment! I simply paid attention to my terminology effect/affect. Tortorella’s remark this time was versus a player of color and contrary to a Val James era the social media technology is Omni present. I also must advise, because I actually scouted Val James for a possible trade inquiry when he was with the Remparts, I heard worse coming from his own fans who thought they were funny or paying him some kind of tribute, when I would address this, many would say, we did not mean anything by it, you are right it is wrong while others simply scoffed and yelled louder racist insults at him. Ever hear? ” Work like a N” this was popular for quite a few coaches back in the day both French & English. Some even had black or bi racial players in the room. Some coaches may never have given a second thought to the expression as an insult, why? It was something they considered maybe just a phrase handed down! Hummm.. What I am trying to convey, remain the same as I mention during speaking engagements, education provides quicker evolution, how? By better understanding before moving on to application. No one really had a full grasp of comment ” the white way” by D. Pang, he corrected with “right way” but we knew where the mindset was, I was happy he said it, why? we should all be, it is a thought process which many have, bringing it to light only helps to bring attention, thus the possibility of positive discussion in regard to who and how, one should act as a hockey player. There are many issues overlooked and this for all players regardless of their skin tone or cultural background, all due to lack of comprehension. As a former coach I met and talked with Tortorella as I have with majority of the NHL coaches, I honestly do not believe any of them may be racist nor lacking tolerance, some may lack diversity education but the puck stops there! For more of my articles (blog) please go to John Paris Jr.com.
William Douglas said:
Thoughtfully said, Coach Paris.