Over the last two months, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.
NBC Sports Washington is launching the fourth part of an ongoing multiplatform content series entitled Race in America: Caps United for Change as part of the Washington Capitals’ initiatives related to diversity in hockey and racial equality.
This week, Capitals players Braden Holtby, Brenden Dillon, Garnet Hathaway and an alumus, Joel Ward, joined host Chris Miller for the last of these roundtable discussions to share their thoughts, experiences and how they’re using their platform in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.
NBCSW will present Race in America: Caps United for Change as a five-part daily short-form digital video series on NBCSportsWashington.com, with new episodes published today, Monday, Aug. 17, through Friday, Aug. 21, and as a 30-minute television special, which will debut on Tuesday, August 18, at 6:30 p.m. before Game 4 of the Capitals-Islanders first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
As a young kid, former Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward quickly fell in love with the game of hockey.
It didn't matter to him that the majority of players in the sport weren't Black, because he simply just loved the game.
"I just fell in love with the game and picked up the stick," Ward said. "I wanted to score goals and play the game as a little kid."
However, one bus ride during his youth hockey days has stuck with him forever. That ride exposed him to the racism and prejudice that currently exists in the sport, one he hopes can eventually end.
"I think growing up as a kid, when I first started playing, I didn't realize [racism in hockey]," Ward said. "As I got older, around PeeWee time, I had an experience on a bus with my team playing in the Quebec Major Junior Tournament. I remember in the back of the bus, some of my teammates were making some Black jokes."
Ward was the lone Black player on his team. He didn't have anyone to relate to. He tried to hold his emotions in, but this time, he couldn't.
"I tried to hold it in. I tried to fit in. I didn't say much. It just slowly broke me down," Ward said. "I remember crying to myself in my seat and moving to the front of the bus."
RACE IN AMERICA CAPS UNITED FOR CHANGE: WATCH THE FULL ROUNDTABLE HERE
It was that moment when Ward, just a young kid, knew his path to grow in the sport would be more difficult to him, simply because of his skin color.
Even when he made it to the NHL, there were still very few players of color playing hockey at the highest level. Ward admitted that at times, he's felt like an outsider due to his skin color.
"It can be a lonely time in that locker room. It's hard," Ward said. "There are some days you just want to put on a good face, but there are things in your personal life that you can't really relate to with other guys on the team. It's tough. You don't want to be known as the 'angry Black guy' when something happens."
Since he entered the NHL, Ward has made a conscious effort to help spread awareness to his teammates and colleagues about ongoing racial issues, not just in the sport, but in the country as a whole.
For Ward, that's helped him tremendously.
"For me, I just tried to be respected by my teammates, tried to educate, tried to have some conversations with guys when things would come up," Ward said. "That made me feel a lot better just to get certain things off my chest."
Ward's road to the NHL was a difficult one. His experience on that bus was just one of the multiple incidents he was subjected to racism in hockey.
Ultimately, Ward hopes that the NHL can come together and try to put an end to racism not just in the game, but in society as a whole.
"The stories I've had and what I've endured over the time is definitely tough. I've faced a bit of racism myself. Hopefully, collectively as a group, we can try and end racism in our game and in society."