Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 08/05/11 at 02:20 PM ET
There isn’t much going on this summer, but Anthony Stewart, one of the newest Canes, is keeping us entertained. Between appearing on TSN’s “Off the Record” and his tweeting, I don’t know if he has time to do any training. He is, however, giving us Caniacs a good look at who he is off the ice. And in one of his recent appearances on OTR, he revealed a somewhat surprising outlook on race-based trash talking. If you don’t follow the Southeast division, you might not know that Anthony Stewart is black.
Yesterday, Stewart was part of a panel on OTR discussing the growing number of black players in the NHL and racial “chirping” on the ice. Here’s the video clip of it. The panel consisted of Stewart, Joel Ward, Wayne Simmonds, Kevin Weeks, Stewart’s dad and Weekes’ dad. They all agreed that what goes on in the locker room is one thing but on the ice is another. When Stewart was asked directly if “chirping” about a player’s race is off limits, he gave an answer that was a bit of a surprise:
No. At the end of the day, we’re all grown men and we have thick skin. I’ve heard it all.”
Everyone on the panel has heard it all, and Simmonds suggested that he takes more offense to racial comments than the others. Ward’s sentiment was pretty much the same as Stewart’s:
It’s no secret: I’m black… Guys will make jabs at you. You deal with it and throw it back.
While Ward was talking about the lighthearted horseplay between teammates in the room, the real issue is what happens on the ice between opponents. Or from fans. During the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs while Kevin Weekes was the keeper for Carolina, he had bananas thrown at him by fans in Montréal. The Canadiens won that game but Carolina won the series. The banana incident wasn’t pretty, but he had no choice but to deal with it. Jim Rutherford’s comment was “We brought it to the attention of the league, but Kevin just wants to let it go, so we’re willing to do that.”
And I think that’s just the thing. Giving it too much attention is exactly what the players don’t want. I’m sure every player would rather respond to racist remarks by beating their opponent on the ice. The players on the panel left the impression that while racism is wrong, chirping is just chirping. It’s an attempt to get inside a players head. Whether the chirping is about someone’s size, or his nationality, or how ugly his kids are, or how his wife left him, or even the color of their skin, it’s just chirping. What the panel didn’t touch on is when it goes beyond “chirping”. When it goes from words to actions. The banana incident was isolated. I haven’t heard about an incident like that in the NHL before or since. And it came from fans rather than a player.
There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor. Pryor plays a job applicant and Chase is the guy interviewing him. There’s a word-association test that starts simply enough, but it devolves, and by the end, the word association has turned into a volley of racial epithets. It’s an amazing skit because at the beginning of the racist name-calling, as a viewer, you’re really uncomfortable. By the end, as the bombs are going off in each direction, it gets really funny. It stops being offensive. Maybe that’s what Ward is getting at. Give it right back, and it takes the weight of it away.
I’ve never played hockey or any sport at an organized level, but any fan knows that there’s a lot of trash talk no matter what the sport is. The guy who gets his feelings hurt is the guy who isn’t thinking about the game anymore, and that’s not good for the team. It’s a head game. I used to play tournament Scrabble, and there’s no trash-talking or any talking at all during the game, but there are head games to be played. Especially in the lower divisions. In official tournament play, the acceptable word list is much more exhaustive than the standard “Scrabble Players Dictionary” (OSPD) for living room play. The Tournament Word List (TWL) includes thousands of words (some of which are racial slurs) which are not in the OSPD because they’re considered to be vulgar in normal conversation. The idea is to remove the meaning from the word and treat it as just a word. Lower division players will often make the mistake of attaching meaning to the word and those players sometimes get shocked or offended by a “vulgar” word. They’re no longer mentally in the game because they’re too worried about being shocked or offended. It’s a huge advantage to be gained, and I’ve gained this advantage more than a few times. That’s exactly what an athlete is trying to do when he chirps another player. Even if it has nothing to do with race, the chirper is trying to take the other guy’s head out of the game.
Aside from this bit about race, Anthony Stewart has been on OTR’s “Next Question” once this summer. He’s also been tweeting like it’s his freakin job. (@astew22) He gets stuck on a theme and beats a hashtag into the ground. #In8thgrade…. #onjerseyshoreihope….. #passittobulis….. It gets to be a bit much at times, but he’s funny and warm. He’s going to be well-liked. Kevin Weekes has projected him to be a perennial 25-goal scorer, and if he can do that or even come close, he’s going to be loved in Raleigh.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.