There’s a group of professional hockey players who go to work knowing that their opponents, and the fans of those opponents, will have a personal dislike for them once games have finished being played.
Some people call them “agitators”. Others call them “line-crossers”. Many often call them “guys you hate to play against, but love if they’re on your side”.
And others have…well, shall we say, “vivid” descriptions of them.
Nazem Kadri is one of those players. The Colorado Avalanche star forward employs an abrasive on-ice style that regularly earns him the eternal ire of many NHL fan bases. He understands he’s not going to be Mr. Congeniality to thousands of people, but he plays the way he’s tacitly encouraged to by his coaches and the hockey system he grew up in, and he’s had a good deal of success to show for it.
But nobody – nobody – deserves the treatment Kadri has received from many human beings in the past couple of days. After he was involved in a controversial collision with St. Louis star goalie Jordan Binnington in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series, Kadri has been bombarded with racist social media posts.
The truly incredible, especially-troubling part is that, rather than being the usual steaming load of mental garbage spouted by anonymous internet trolls, this time there were people who were comfortable using their real names as they flouted their bigotry for all to see. (Of course, most of them scrambled and locked their accounts when people called them out on it.)
This isn’t about St. Louis, or Blues fans, in particular. This isn’t about the Kadri/Binnington incident. This was and is exclusionary hockey culture at its dirt worst. This is racism, plain and simple. And we all need to be clear that there is no room in hockey, or civilized society, for that matter, for this hatred to be allowed to flourish.
If you’re not convinced the abuse of Kadri has everything to do with his heritage, ask yourself this: did you ever hear Ken Linseman or Sean Avery’s background referenced after one of their many run-ins with the rulebook and/or hockey etiquette? Of course you didn’t.
Nobody ever said, “tell that Anglo-Saxon s.o.b. to go back where he came from – probably, to a small town in Northern Canada!”. It is preposterous to imagine, because nobody cares about where they were from. Their fans made rationalizations for them, as fans are wont to do. But nobody ever argued they were some sort of alien threat.
But in Kadri’s case, somehow, these terribly uninformed people believe it’s fine to denigrate who they think he is and where they think he’s from. It doesn’t matter to them that Kadri is a born-and-raised Canadian, and, even if he wasn’t, that still wouldn’t make it acceptable to heap all this awful energy on him; all they need is someone who doesn’t look like they do, and whose names aren’t the same as theirs, and that’s enough for them to believe he’s fair game for all their ugly biases to be unleashed upon.
He’s not fair game. Kadri deserves the basic human dignity every public figure deserves. No matter how much money he makes, he didn’t start playing hockey knowing this would be a price he had to pay. No parents would willingly subject their kids to all this misplaced anger and misunderstanding. It is wrong, and nobody can successfully argue otherwise.
It was disappointing to see Blues coach Craig Berube choose the “no comment” route when asked about the abuse of Kadri. We all get that Berube is not responsible for each and every hockey fan out there. But this is not a time for “no comment”. This is a time for “comment”, and it shouldn’t be that difficult to keep an arm’s length from Kadri as a player while condemning the blatant xenophobia of the situation. Silence is complicity until we reach the stage as a community and a sport where people of all backgrounds are afforded the same respect.
Obviously, we’re not close to that point yet. But those of us who are committed to making hockey truly for everyone should be speaking out against this viciousness. Nothing Kadri has ever done as an NHLer warrants treating him like some subhuman monster. If you want to talk about projection, this is a great example.
Hockey isn’t the only sport that has racial issues. The problem exists everywhere. Very recently, New York Yankees star Josh Donaldson was suspended for a racially-charged comment during a game. Sports are a microcosm of modern life as a whole, and it only makes sense that we’ll see racial issues on the macro level bubbling up on the micro-level.
But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. Rather, we have to demonstrate zero tolerance of racism, each and every time the problem manifests before us. Tribalism is one thing. Truly damaging, prejudicial behavior is quite another.
Even if you loathe players like Kadri, you have no right to take away their humanity. The older we get, the more we realize hockey isn’t, in fact, for everyone. It is not for barbarians masquerading as fans.