Joel Ward became a Game 7 overtime hero Wednesday night with his goal that sent the Washington Capitals into the second round of the playoffs. He joined his coach, Dale Hunter, in becoming the second player in franchise history to pull off that trick.
But that’s not the only reason why Ward got a standing ovation from fans at practice Friday as teammates tapped their sticks on the ice. The right wing, who is the Caps’ only black player, was the subject of some racist slurs on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet after his goal.
Ward has been nothing but classy in responding since it all happened.
“There’s been a lot of support from everybody, especially my teammates and the whole organization and even the opposition, the Bruins, and some of their fans,” Ward said. “So it’s been overwhelming, a lot’s been going on. Just trying to embrace it, I guess, as best I can.”
Ward didn’t exactly laugh off the slurs when addressing them Friday but instead came across as a man very at ease with something that he said was a “battle” that will always exist.
“It’s a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments, but what can you do?” he said. “I know what I signed up for. I’m a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It’s just going to come with the territory. I’d feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn’t exist. It is what it is and it’s going to be part of here and part of life.”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a part of life. Jeff Halpern, who showed Ward the tweets late Wednesday night, didn’t want the hate to overshadow what analyst Kevin Weekes called the biggest goal of the 31-year-old’s career.
“You get a few idiots out there who ruin a beautiful moment for somebody,” forward Jason Chimera said.
Halpern’s first reaction was shock.
“It’s not a handful, it’s a large number. It’s a bunch of idiots, and I don’t know if that’s a good representation of the hockey community,” he said. “I think Wardo, a lot of people in his situation have had to deal with stuff like that for a long time. It was shocking to see that people are that public about it, too. I don’t know if that’s a representation of the hockey community. I think the hockey community rallied behind Wardo and supported him.”
In a strongly written blog post, owner Ted Leonsis called the messages “unforgivable” and offered up the organization’s support for Ward. The NHL and Boston Bruins also released statements, and the ex-Nashville Predators forward got plenty of text messages in the past day or so.
D.C. mayor Vincent Gray even weighed in, saying on WTOP: “It shows we still have in some parts of our society some very high levels of racism.”
“It’s crazy. It’s crazy to think they can get away with it too especially social media, it’s out there,” Halpern said. “I would imagine that those peoples’ lives are going to become miserable, which they should.”
According to the Boston Herald, that’s already happening. The paper reported at least one fan had received death threats and a student from Franklin Pierce University was facing possible disciplinary actions for the “vile, racial slurs.”
Everyone around hockey condemned the tweets. Alex Ovechkin suggested Ward not worry too much about them.