I’m a hockey fan, it’s official. Granted, I’m fair-weather, as I caught the local fever once they Bruins won the Stanley Cup. But in my defense, it would have been difficult NOT to jump on that wagon. If you’re unaware, New England is serious about its sports teams, and I’m no exception. Sports offer a respite from the difficulties and stressors of everyday life, and they give adults license to regress to childhood behaviors for short, fantasy-filled increments. With the Celtics about to take on Miami and the Red Sox finally showing some promise, the Bruins’ season-ending heartbreak is behind me. It was a tough loss, but what was even tougher was the online havoc that ensued thereafter. If you missed it, it was intense. The Bruins were on their way, but first, they had to get past the Washington Capitals. Game seven of their playoff series went into sudden-death overtime, and the winner would advance to the next round. To the dismay of our region and Bruins fans globally, Washington struck first and abruptly ended the Bruins’ season.
Now, something else you may not know about Boston is that there is a history of what some refer to as “racial tension.” For example, in the early nineteen seventies, Boston put a desegregation of the public schools mandate into effect, and previously segregated schools were no longer homogeneous. This caused upheaval, and people rioted. This is the Irish Southie vs. Black Roxbury that Hollywood has depicted in multiple films. Southie is only one small, previously-working-class-since-gentrified neighborhood, and Roxbury has never been able to shake it’s reputation as a hub for the 1980’s crack epidemic. Our region’s reputation has lingered. Word was, Bill Russell warned Kevin Garnett to stay away before the new Big Three was assembled, as Bill, the Celtics’ all-time-very-best-player had experienced “that Boston” firsthand. Kevin, in 2012, thankfully has outspoken affection for Celtics fans. I’ve always had hopes for Boston’s evolution regarding acceptance, as the Hollywood depiction overlooks our extensive diversity and progress.
Ok, back to the Bruins. As stated, they abruptly lost in sudden-death overtime, and Bruins fans were let-down. For most of us, this meant toasting to a great season and hoping for another shot at the Cup next year. Or changing the channel. Or cooking dinner. Or going to bed. For other fans, however, it meant an an all out verbal assault against Joel Ward, the African Canadian player who scored that winning goal for the Caps. Appalling, hateful rants against a fantastic player, all because he succeeded. This, of course, made national news, and exacerbated our region’s racist reputation. I was embarrassed to be a local, as any affiliation with such ignorance left a knot in my stomach. Ironically, in 1958, the Bruins signed the NHL’s very first Black hockey player, Willie O’Ree. Fifty four years later, it felt like we took countless steps backward. I took this whole thing personally, as I’m deliberate in my personal life, ministry, and profession regarding a commitment to the celebration of diversity. I was just, well, sad, as I take pride in these attributes, but I’m also enormously proud to be from Massachusetts. I’m of the belief that none are immune to discrimination. I’m of the opinion that none of us can claim cultural competence; only cultural openness, sensitivity, and willingness to grow. Claiming competence suggests there’s nothing left to learn, and let’s face it, we all have room to grow! Joel, by the way, handled the attack it like a gentleman. I’m confident it wasn’t his first rodeo, as he’s one of only a couple of dozen players of African descent presently in professional hockey. I’m sure he braced himself when the second the puck went in the net. Which is unfortunate.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most prolific examples the Bible gives us regarding love and acceptance of God’s children. The priest and the Levite ignored a wounded and beaten man, and the Samaritan, the marginalized one, offered an abundance of assistance and care to the needy victim. Our love really does require blindness. Our willingness to trump societal caste systems and misshapen traditions, and view one another through Christ’s eyes, is literally the key to life. He stated, “do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28 NIV).