By Dion Johnson, Special to the AFRO
We Washingtonians, if anything, are a prideful bunch. With all the tough losses and idiotic things that come our way as fans, we have never wavered. Nevermind that this is “just hockey” as most hating-a** dudes have been uttering since late in the Eastern Conference Finals, once our Washington Capitals finally started to get some traction outside of the traditional fanbase.
We have been ridiculed ad nauseum for the prior 26 years of frustrations delivered by our pro sports franchises (91 total seasons if we are keeping count). Last Thursday, those laughs ceased. You cannot joke about this city being a “minor league” sports town any more. No sir. Not after being apart of tens of thousands of fellow Caps fans who watched each game of the Stanley Cup Finals in the middle of the street.
Washington Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly (25) battles with Jay Beagle, left, during a face off during an NHL hockey practice Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Last Thursday, I bore witness to years and years of frustration finally being released and it was euphoric. As a true Black hockey fan, it was amazing to see all races and socioeconomic levels celebrating together at once for a change. With all of the crap going on in this city – starting with the guy who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave – the residents here are just sick of it all. This city needed a positive diversion in the worst way.
This Caps’ run has been a welcome distraction from all that stuff, and I think it’s part of why there’s been such insane crowds on the streets of Chinatown these last few games.
We were ACHING for a winner after all these years of futility, but on top of all that, I think people just want something to feel good about and be proud of.
Who knew it would be the same team that broke our heart the most over the past two decades that would finally lift the sports curse from over D.C.’s head? Who knew the team that would bring together all types of people of different affluence and ethnicity would be the team with the least amount of urban fans?
Nobody in my circle of friends cared about hockey until Alex Ovechkin came into town 13 years ago and made sports fun again. His highlights and personality was made for the SportsCenter era and people ate it up…until they wanted to see more than just gaudy highlights and statistics. For myself, I’ve had to listen and watch Ovechkin deal with his own issues as an outsider (a Russian in a mostly Canadian league) and watch how the narrative from the mostly Canadian media and “old guard” would discredit his skill level on a daily basis and how his style of play would never be the catalyst of a winning franchise.
It’s not dissimilar than how mainstream media treats our young, Black athletes. If you’re boastful, a la Ovie or say New York Giants Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., you are a nuisance. But if you are a White American athlete boasting, well then you’re just a fiery competitor.
As a Black hockey fan, I really didn’t have many people to talk to about the sport growing up, sans one or two of my homies. In my early adult years, my cousin Mike and I would watch Caps games together and deal with all the ups and downs that comes with fandom. Of course, each season would end with heartbreak (to this day, my cousin still despises former defenseman Mike Green…it’s an ongoing joke in our small circle).
During this recent era – the Rock The Red era – more of my Black friends and family became hockey enthusiasts and it made me proud. They all started off as novices and developed their undying love for the team game-by-game, year-by-year, disappointment-by-disappointment. Those disappointments bonded us…we went through this together, as if we were raising a baby.
I’ve always said, “there are only two things that bring people of different background together for one common cause….music and sports.”
Fandom is a real place, an emotional place. People are more loyal to their sports fandom than they are to their spouses. Last night we saw the best of sports fandom with a huge helping of civic pride, elation and unbridled joy all in one moment. That moment doesn’t come around often.
Thank you, Coach Trotz, Nicky Backstrom, Evegeny Kuznetzov, Devante Smith-Pelle, TJ Oshie and all of the other players that left it all on the ice for our enjoyment.
As my man, Ace Boogie, said in the legendary motion picture “Paid In Full”: “I’m breathing different…”
I’m finally feeling like the champion we were destined to be.
D.C. Sports fans, you are a champion today. And yes, that goes for us Black fans, too.