Racism is a very touchy subject. Most people are very apprehensive about discussing race. It is a vague, complex issue that usually brings out heated debates and volatile arguments. So when Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane suggested in an interview soon to be published in The Hockey News, that racism was the primary reason why he has been subjected to heavy criticism by Winnipeg fans and media, the city is up in arms.
Since the Jets arrived in Winnipeg in 2011, Kane has been the lightning rod of the franchise. There have been many rumours floating around the city about Kane’s behaviour. From skipping bills at restaurants, to posting images on Twitter, holding stacks of money like a telephone, while atop a plush high-rise in Las Vegas, to having a different girl on his arm on his many nights about the town, to his public battles with head coach Claude Noel, Kane knows how to strike a conversation. Usually in a negative way.
So let’s look at both sides of the story. Yes, Kane has been subject to his fair share of criticism. And there in no doubt some of it is warranted. But have the fans and the media gone too far? Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless has been obsessed with Evander Kane, since the Jets returned. Lawless has written countless articles about Kane’s alleged indiscretions at length. Yet when it comes to the lack of effort supplied by Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov and Olli Jokinen, those three for some reason get a pass. (That is changing with Antropov as he is starting to feel the heat from fans and media.) Now is it race, or is it because there are higher expectations for Kane?
Then there is the city of Winnipeg itself. A diverse community with various backgrounds, Winnipeg has a long history of multiculturalism which it should be proud of. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any problems in the city. For many years, Native Canadians have lived in impoverished conditions in the North End of the city. While many Canadian cities have similar issues, Winnipeg has been front and centre in this ongoing problem. It is and remains a divisive issue here and it could have possibly carried over into hockey as well.
Then there is the NHL itself. The rise of black players in the NHL has become more noticeable in recent years. From Wayne Simmonds to Anson Carter to Grant Fuhr to Jarome Iginla, blacks aren’t only making the NHL, they’re thriving and doing very well. Sadly there are old attitudes that still exist. After Joel Ward scored the overtime winner, to help the Washington Capitals upset the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs, some Bruin fans took to Twitter to vent some frustration. While most Bruin fans expressed disappointment in the loss (which is completely understandable) some resorted to ugly racial slurs against Ward. (Ward is black for those who don’t know) The numbskulls who did this were quickly outed on Twitter and shot down very fast. But it was a reminder that we have a long way to go, in the battle against racism.
But Kane does have a few points against him too. Firstly, the Winnipeg Sun recently took a poll to see who is the most popular Jet in the city. Overwhelmingly, the fans chose Dustin Byfuglien as their favourite player. Big Buff (who is black) has gone about his business much quieter than Kane. He goes by the old adage “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That big stick produces a cannon of a shot that terrifies opposing goalies. So far in this 2013 season, Byfuglien has been the best player for the Jets, and deserves the adoration of the fans.
Let us remember that Kane is still young and dumb with lots of money. When you give a 21-year-old a six-year contract, paying an annual salary of $5.25 million per year, it can go to his head. If I was 21 and making over $5 million a year, I’d be doing and saying dumb things as well.
Finally it could be just Winnipeg fans overreacting to just about everything. There is no doubt the excitement level in this city is very high since the Jets returned, but perhaps a chill pill is required for the fans. The rumours about Kane are akin to high school rumours about whose dating whom. Yes Kane needs to grow up, but so do the Winnipeg fans.
There is no easy answer. And yes, this issue will divide many a citizen in this city. But it is worth discussing about. And hopefully Evander Kane can learn something from this as well.
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