Stories on area hockey haters deliver cheap-shot hit on the city

The region’s racist tweeters deserve condemnation, but the city itself isn’t the Boston of 1970s

The headlines all have a familiar ring to them.  So familiar, in fact, that the New York Times incorporates that déjà vu feeling into the headline atop its story:  “Hockey Loss Sets Off Slurs, And Boston Asks, ‘Again?’

The stories, of course, are the accounts of the racist bile unleashed on Twitter following the Boston Bruins’ playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, which came at the hands of an overtime goal by Capitals forward Joel Ward, one of the NHL’s few black players.  The vile rants of the gutter-dwellers have been appropriately denounced by all thinking parties.  Dan Kennedy offers a thoughtful take on why blatant racism seems to pop up in hockey, even if the source is a tiny minority of fans, more so than among followers of other sports.

But the coverage, especially by national media, has delivered a blindside check to Boston that the city doesn’t deserve. Chris Lovett, the wise veteran Boston observer who anchors a nightly newscast on the city’s public access television channel, summed it up best when linking on his Facebook page to the Times story: “I imagine most of these knuckleheads live outside the city, but in the national view it’s a Boston problem.”

Indeed, the Boston Herald reports today on students from Gloucester, Cumberland, Rhode Island, and Vernon, Connecticut , being identified as among those behind some of the hateful  tweets. 

“Boston,” however, is convenient shorthand, especially in the national press, for an entire region, especially when it comes to fans of a team that plays in and is so connected with the city’s history.  Thus, it was that the Times came calling on Mayor Tom Menino to answer for what went on following Wednesday’s game.  “In ’72, ’73, when busing was tearing our city apart we had problems. But I tell you, we’ve grown over the years,” he told the paper.

Indeed, it isn’t the Boston of the 1970s, and the city itself is taking a hit for the racist rantings of hooligans from Boston suburbs, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire hill towns.  I’m not a native Bostonian, but I have lived in the city for 31 years.  That’s long enough to remember a time when race-based violence and outbursts were common – and to have witnessed the city’s evolution into a place where such episodes are much more part of our past than our present.  I think there’s is a widely held perception that most who live here are accepting of the city’s multicultural mix, while the unreconstructed haters who could not abide a changing city years ago took their leave.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Admittedly, it’s a broad generalization.  Boston, like most big American cities, is certainly not a nirvana of racial brotherhood.  And of course most of those who have left the city did not do so because they couldn’t countenance its growing racial diversity. But anyone who has lived here for a while will tell you that life in most Boston neighborhoods in 2012 is far different when it comes to matters of race than it was in 1982.

When it comes to race, Boston has endured its share of well-deserved reprobation over the years.  But it seems a bit unfair of national media outlets to lay this ugly chapter at the city’s feet – or to put the screws to Tom Menino to explain the behavior of racist yahoos who would be more lost than Charlie if dropped on the MBTA.