Scoring the winner in overtime in the seventh game of the National Hockey League (NHL) first round play-offs to help the Washington Capitals upset defending Stanley Cup champions, Boston Bruins, last week had to be the high-point of Joel Ward’s difficult and challenging career.
However, barely had the euphoria of the sweet moment subsided than the winger – who has confronted many hurdles in his career – was subjected to racial slurs via social media.
Many were angered, including Ward’s older sister Itah Sadu who – with her husband Miguel San Vicente – co-owns a Toronto bookstore.
“What I found fascinating is that I am in the business of selling books and resources that address race and racism and enable people to look at anti-racism and here it is that my brother is under racial attack internationally,” said Sadu. She and Ward have the same father. “I think a lot of the racist attacks we have seen in recent times against Black hockey players come as a result of this thing called the Obama era. I think it comes out of the whole notion of the Tea Party politics and red-neck America grasping for that power and trying to regain it at any cost.”
Though he has been playing organized hockey since the age of six, the 31-year-old Ward did not make his NHL debut until 2006. Passed over by every NHL team in the draft, he was cut by the Atlanta Thrashers, the Detroit Red Wings – twice – and the Minnesota Wild after free agent tryouts.
Ward, whose parents were born in Barbados, was raised by his mother in Scarborough after his father, Randall, collapsed in the stands while watching his son play a game in December 1994. Randall Ward succumbed to a blood clot in the brain two days later in hospital.
“I know our dad would be proud of Joel and his accomplishments,” said Sadu. “He was his biggest advocate and supporter and he would be just as upset with the racist remarks that his son has been subjected to. Whenever I meet some of our father’s friends in a Barbados situation, they would always recall Randall boasting about how his son was going to play in the NHL and they would laugh and tease him, saying there is no way that Black boy is going to play in that league.”
Sadu said the racist incident involving her brother brought back memories she had of a conversation with former Major League Baseball home-run king, Hank Aaron, when the Black Business and Professional Association hosted him in Toronto several years ago.
In 1976, he hit his 755th and final home run in Milwaukee which stood as a National League home run record until five years ago.
“Hank said that here it was that he was about to make history and his family was being protected by the U.S federal marshals,” she recalled. “He was standing at home plate waiting to swing his bat and create history, thinking that somebody in the stands could shoot him or try to harm his loved ones.”
Ward is the second Black hockey player to face racial slurs in the past seven months. In a pre-season game in London, Ontario in September, Christopher Moorhouse hurled a banana on the ice as Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds was about to skate in for a shootout attempt against the Detroit Red Wings. Moorhouse was fined $200.
By RON FANFAIR