And so we return to sport's disgraceful past, when a man's performance was less important than the color of his skin. But hatred and ignorance are now introduced through the modern marvel of social media. Or, in this situation, anti-social media.
A hockey player from the Washington Capitals, Joel Ward, scored an overtime goal Wednesday night that eliminated the defending champion Boston Bruins from the Stanley Cup playoffs practically before they got a chance to get in, the first round.
Ward is black. Dreamers in the 21st Century would tell us that doesn't matter. Didn't we just celebrate an anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball? Aren't we enlightened? All that counts, we're told, is what you do on the ice.
The Bruins didn't do enough, and so like that they're gone, in a suddenness that brings back memories of other Boston disappointments, notably that crushing home run by the Yankees' Bucky Dent against the Red Sox in the 1978 tiebreaker game.
Then, it was over the Green Monster. Wednesday night, it was into the net, letting loose the monster in the fan.
Bill Russell won championships for the Celtics in the 1960s. An African-American who grew up in Northern California, Russell always felt uncomfortable in Boston, which he described as "a flea market of racism."
More than 40 years have gone. The flea market remains open.
Racist and obscene comments were transmitted to Ward's Twitter page, includig the "N' word and the "F'' word, for no other reason than the way a sporting contest ended.
For no other reason than Bruins fans, some of them, didn't want to blame their team but blame the man who scored the winning goal against their team.
Tweet not about his brilliance but about his background.
This was a product of modern technology. This also was a product of old-fashioned thinking, of bigotry.
The reminder was less than subtle: How dare a black man play a white man's game?
Ward didn't know about the tweets until Capitals teammate Jeff Halpern notified him. The tweets "were shocking, but they didn't ruin my day,'' Ward told USA Today.
They ruined the days of those who seek in sports a fairness constructed on rules and respect.
One of the beauties of hockey, when the checking and rough stuff is over, is that after the final game players shake hands as they skate by in a line. At the finish, sportsmanship is the ultimate winner.
And yet, while the men on the ice do themselves proud, some who follow them from afar are an embarrassment.
In 1974, Hank Aaron received hate mail and death threats as he approached Babe Ruth's home run record. Even now he recalls the vitriol. We tell ourselves that would never happen today. But as the tweets to Ward show, it would and it did.
Ward said numerous Bruins fans, upon hearing of the negative tweets, sent him supportive ones, pleading not to be painted with the same brush as their doltish brethren. The league, distancing itself, also had the expected response.
"The racially charged comments distributed via digital media ... were ignorant and unacceptable,'' said the NHL in a needed statement. "The people responsible for these comments have no place associating themselves with our game."
But they do associate themselves. They are the misfits, the misanthropes, whose disenchantment pours out in vulgarity. "Bleep you,'' they shout in a room full of women and children.
No Bruins players had to like what happened. No good fan has to accept what happened after the final horn.
"What these people have said and done is unforgivable,'' Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said of the tweeters, who identified themselves with handles such as Skoal Bandit and ZachSilva2. "I hope they are now publicly identified and pay a huge price for their beliefs. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of hatemongering. We will as an organization support Joel Ward. He has been a great teammate and great citizen. He is now the star of stars in our city for his heroics. He is a friend and a fantastic player who delivered as advertised for us and our fans."
There have been racial incidents in European soccer the last few years, African players on teams from France or England berated by fans in Bulgaria and Russia. Unfortunate but, considering the source, not unusual.
We would expect better from fans in the U.S. We were misled.
Ward's family emigrated from Barbados. He grew up near Toronto. Always he had been accepted without hesitation.
"I've never heard anything,'' he said to USA Today of playing professional hockey. "I heard some things in youth hockey, but at that age, I didn't know what the terminology meant."
He knows now. We all know. And we know it's shameful.