Another week in sports, another uncomfortable national conversation about race.

Only this one hit a little too close to home, didn’t it?

Sadly, the social media fallout from P.K. Subban’s double-overtime, game-winning goal for the Montreal Canadiens against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup conference semifinal series was predictable.

And yes, it’s low-hanging fruit for the element in our society that chooses to capitalize on such things, and pretend that the exception is the rule.

Subban is black, which aside from affording him minority status, makes him a near-anomaly in the mostly monochrome world of professional hockey. Let’s just say he doesn’t exactly blend into this sport with the rabid, cult following and perpetual chips of grit and toughness on its shoulders.

Within the first five minutes after he lofted the puck past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, Subban was indirectly subjected to every racial epithet from the Book of 1850s America. Not to mention a few that I think the twisted minds concocted, all special-like, for the occasion. I would need a translator to fully understand them.

It elicited an all-caps response from a sports universe still aghast at Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks to his mistress.

If you thought an 81-year-old bazillionaire was an easy target, Boston’s history involving matters where sports and race collide made it a sitting duck, too. Presume that these comments were made by a true cross-section of legitimate Boston Bruins fans (which I question), and the conclusion, “same, old, hateful Boston” is an easy one to draw.

Too easy, I would say.

We’ve heard the stories. Free agents in all sports who said they would never play in Boston because of the perception that the city treats minority athletes with something less than goodness and equality.

But is it really any different than the stupidity that prevails among a shrinking chorus in, say, Philadelphia? Or Washington? Or Los Angeles?

Boston has embraced Bill Russell, Jim Rice, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Vince Wilfork and other black athletes. If Subban suited up in black-and-gold, you can bet we would embrace him, too. When the day comes that Subban’s brother, top Bruins draft pick Malcolm, makes 53 saves to win a playoff game for the B’s, he’ll be hailed as a hero. Color will not be an issue.

Blaming a city typifies our habit of searching for surface explanations of these matters, anyway, instead of delving deeper.

While Boston is held under the heat lamp, the culture of hockey seems to be enjoying a free pass. Hockey has a history of racial epithets directed at its few minority players, from both on and off the ice, after all. And there is a culture of flag-waving, chest-thumping and bully belligerence that bubbles underneath the surface with hockey.

Its ardent fans don’t sink to the level of European soccer hooliganism, but mix alcohol with the testosterone-fueled emotion of the game and, yes, occasionally it makes a select few of them say and do dumb things.

Easy to pick on a whole city that has a reputation, deserved or not, in regards to race. Not as popular to suggest that a sport gets its house in order.

But I don’t blame hockey, or its fans, for this latest affront to decency and humanity. Trolls are not true fans. They’re miserable people compensating for various shortcomings and petty jealousies.

The relative anonymity of the interwebs, and its invitation to flex those keyboard muscles, only makes these tendencies worse.

So please don’t act shocked that a few yahoos sank to the lowest level of human communication when Subban lit the lamp and slapped an exclamation point on Game 1. The only thing that would have been shocking is if it had been met with the sound of silence.

Don’t blame Boston. Don’t blame hockey. And most importantly, don’t engage these people in that dreaded national conversation or even give them the satisfaction of a response.

Offer them the Sterling treatment. Banish, ignore and isolate them, and continue to enjoy the intense — and colorful — games that good people play.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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