The Race to Criticize P.K. Subban: Why Is He Always the Subject of Criticism?

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterJanuary 17, 2014

Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban speaks to reporters after the team's practice, Tuesday, January 7, 2014 in Brossard, Que. Subban has been named to Canada's Olympic hockey team. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
Ryan Remiorz/Associated Press

P.K. Subban is black. This may not be breaking news, but it's important to establish that as the foundation of almost every ounce of criticism that is thrown at him for simply being who he is.

On Thursday night, in one of the wildest games of the season, the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime on Subban's eighth goal of the season. It was a pretty swell goal, as he had his initial shot blocked, but displayed tremendous focus and balance to get off a second shot that squeezed through the legs of goaltender Craig Anderson.

Then Subban did something that angered the Senators—he celebrated.

Gasp! Oh, my stars! 

If you haven't seen the goal and celebration, take a gander at what has everyone all worked up Friday.

Subban rises from a prone position, leaving his stick in the crease, and skates joyfully into the arms of his teammates. After all the hugging, Subban tugs at the "C" on the front of his jersey and calls it a night.

It's not quite a run of the mill celebration, but it's hardly Subban riding his stick out to center ice, stopping on the Senators logo and flashing double middle fingers to the fans at Canadian Tire Centre.

Much like Billy Mumphry, Subban's downfall continues to be his unbridled enthusiasm.

The blacklash…I mean, backlash…over the incident didn't crop up until this afternoon, when the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch sent out an ominous tweet.

Fair to say P.K. Subban's post-goal celebration didn't go over well. #Sens

— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) January 17, 2014

Oh, really? Tell us more about this revelation.

"It looked like Game 7 out there. I've had a few over the top," said MacArthur. "Game 48 is a little odd." #Sens

— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) January 17, 2014

"The key word there is unnecessary," said goalie Craig Anderson on Subban's celebration. #Sens

— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) January 17, 2014

It's definitely not unique for people to cry and whine when someone in the NHL shows genuine emotion and excitement. Earlier this season, Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl locked up goal of the year with his between-the-legs roof job against the Rangers. It led to many, including Capitals coach Adam Oates in the Washington Post, to talk about how something like that doesn't belong in the game:

I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.

But with Subban, it seems as though just about everything he does gets people upset. I wonder why that is, seeing as how he's one of the best defensemen in the NHL. What is it about Subban that sets him apart from other players in the NHL? 

Racism isn't always backwoods white people wearing white hoods and burning crosses on lawns in Mississippi. Like any living, breathing thing on this planet, racism has evolved over the years. It's a lot harder to spot now, and it comes in the form of subtle language and descriptors and the hidden meanings within them.

Subban is often described as: brash, cocky, arrogant, flamboyant and the always popular athletic. The underlying thread through almost all criticism of Subban is he doesn't know his place in the game, which may not be all that subtle when you get right down to it.

In November 2010, Mike Richards had some unbelievably stomach-cringing words about Subban when he was a rookie that you'll be hard-pressed to find about anyone else. From TSN, Richards said about Subban's style of play:

Hopefully someone on their team addresses it, because, uh, I'm not saying I'm going to do it but something might happen to him of he continues to be that cocky.

Well, that's quite the threat. "Know your place or something is going to happen to you." 

One of the more famous slips was when TSN panelist Darren Pang said Subban should "settle down" and that he should play the game "the white way." He later apologized for that slip, but it was the type of slip that speaks volumes about where the criticisms of Subban come from.

Then during the 2011-12 season, Panthers forward Krys Barch was ejected from a game against the Canadiens for allegedly hurling a racial slur at Subban. It was reported that Barch asked Subban if he slipped on a banana peel—I swear you just can't make this stuff up—but he didn't reference a banana in a racist way. It was just a complete coincidence that Subban is black.

When does it stop becoming a coincidence that things like this keep happening to Subban, and when does it become something that is addressed by the league, by the Canadiens, heck, by absolutely anyone?

The ire shouldn't entirely be focused on the players who throw around these code words when describing Subban. What about the reporters who open the door for statements like the ones from Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson? What does it say about you that you see a celebration like the one Subban had and believe it's worthy of a question to a player?

Players are always the ones to take the heat when they make guarantees about victories or comments about the quality of another team or whether a celebration is deemed acceptable. But they're not the ones seeking out microphones and recorders. Reporters, who should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror about their agendas, are just as responsible for perpetrating this type of commentary about Subban.

Anderson thinks Subban's celebration wasn't necessary. I think the question wasn't necessary. I think a save in that situation was necessary. I think a goalie with a .903 save percentage and 3.16 goals-against average isn't really necessary.

Does the criticism of Subban throughout his career come from a thoughtful place, one that is based on him not being black but on him needing to improve his game?

Not necessarily. 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.


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