Yesterday, New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller received his unofficial welcome to the NHL. Specifically, the bigoted underbelly of professional sports found the promising rookie. During a Zoom chat, trolls decided to repeat the N-word over and over. Stunned, Miller documented the event. If you watch the footage, the 20-year-old began to register the depth and limits of the idiocy of sports fans. Now, racism doesn’t solely reside within the realm of the NHL, yet many gloss over the ugly history. For me, yesterday struck a painful chord with me.
1/I was in the zoom call with Kandre Miller today. I haven’t seen the full story out there yet so I figured I’d share. Started off fine, then one person figured out how to use the chat, asked what video games do you like to play? About 15 seconds later, two people, one named pic.twitter.com/jQ2D7viDJg
— patience (@rollNYR) April 4, 2020
After watching the Miracle on Ice as a kid, hockey spoke to me. I lived in the middle of an urban neighborhood. Although the Hartford Whalers were the state’s team, they did not enjoy firm support in the Black community. However, I would watch the Whale play my beloved Rangers. Being Black and a hockey fan immerses you in a vastly different world. Few players looked like me, none sounded like me. The Whalers employed a winger named Ray Neufeld. A talented scorer, Neufeld enjoyed quality seasons for the Whalers. My Rangers fandom allowed me to root for Neufeld.
While the Whalers entertained visiting teams, I would occasionally find myself near ice. One night, some drunk nose-picker decided to talk to my father, asking him why ” people like us were there”. ” Hockey is a ” White sport”, according to clowns. My father, not a hockey fan, but a good parent, ” We’re here, because my gotdamn wants to be. Now, get away from us”. The guy would eye us during the first period, drinking that lukewarm Budweiser, like the liquid courage it was. Leaving the Hartford Civic Center, I did not understand, at eight years old, why I was not wanted there. Ray Neufeld heard slurs from the home crowd. Grant Fuhr, one of the best goalies to patrol between the pipers, endured the nastiest slurs night after night.
When jobs and money found my leaky wallet, catching the train into New York for a Rangers game became common. At times, that weekend trip to Long Island and catching the Rangers and Islanders play evolved into an event. Yet, at the World’s Most Famous Arena, bigotry found a spot. If it wasn’t Fuhr, Jarome Iginla heard the word ” monkey” from the drunk segment. When the Rangers embarked on their magical 1994 run, they played the Islanders. Leaving after the Blueshirts smacking the Isles, the slurs began. By that point, I was a hotheaded nineteen-year-old, looking for a fight, finding one at every turn.
A common insult in the NHL, regarding Black players, became monkey. There was something visceral and ugly about the term monkey. Everyone from Peter Worrell to Georges Laraque endured that t7erm. May as well, show testicular fortitude, call them the N-word and stop trying to be cute. For a sport built on toughness, hockey players and fans will run fro speaking their complete thought. When a Black player was near, fans would skate around the ugly. Now, sitting behind a computer, they feel freer with the worst slur.
Nod and Wink
If you’re honest, what happened to K’Andre Miller, should not surprise you. The NHL, for decades, maintained a veneer of bigotry, challenged but never reformed. Don Cherry sat as the host of Hockey Night in Canada for decades. He would utter the most racist remarks and receive the softest slap on the wrist? Why? To some, Cherry is the old school, tough hockey lifer, who prefers his drinks strong and sport harder. According to his fans, Cherry ” speaks like they do” Of course, a racist idiot will congregate around like minds. Forgiving him, erases the sting of his comments. For all of you that smirked at his intolerant tirades, by laughing, you’re complicit.
K’Andre Miller will play in New York. A city, so bereft of sports stars, that he should be lauded as the future. yet, fans hound him with the N-word. Like PK Subban, Anson Carter, Georges Laraque, and others, Miller eyes history. He inherits a legacy of pushing through. On his twenty-year-old shoulder sits the ignorance and pain of lacing up skates for a league that tolerates bigotry. Using flimsy, toothless programs doesn’t obscure the fact that the NHL allows ugly to persist.
In response to the Miller incident, the New York Rangers issued a platitude-laden statement. James Dolan runs the organziation.. into the ground. Like the Knicks and Liberty, Dolan mismanages this team and remains ungodly oblivious to common sense. Most see K’Andre Miller as a future star. However, his organization brings the weakest of sauce and dumbest intentions to the table. If James Dolan cared, he’d jump in front of a player and defend him with all the fire that his sniveling visage could produce. The Rangers, the NHL, and the fanbase let K’Andre Miller down. For no reason, he endured hatred on the basis of his skin color. Welcome to the NHL, things never change. We are the proverbial sons and daughters of Willie O’Ree. Yet, we remain alone in a puck-crazy sport. Fix this.