Jim Ralph is one of hockey's colorful characters: a career minor leaguer after being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1980, his dry wit and spot-on impressions of celebrities like Don Cherry have led to a career doing keynote speeches and, more importantly, as a color commentator for Toronto 640AM.
Back in 1990, Ralph was asked to help create a hockey bloopers and comedy video, eventually titled "Hockey. A Brutal Game?"
Available only on VHS, a few clips from this two-decades-old video have finally surfaced on YouTube. They include a depressing clip about hockey interview cliches, and one that plays a shade differently in 2012 than it did in 1990.
Here's Jim Ralph, in blackface* and an Afro, with "The NHL Rap."
Ralph, who also wrote the song, said "The NHL Rap" was one of a dozen character pieces done in the video, in which he'd don different costumes. As Casey Kasem, he did a thing where he switched sweaters on every camera cut. As Don Cherry, he wore an exaggerated collar, and so forth.
He viewed this segment in the same manner, finding comedic inspiration from Eddie Murphy's stint as a white man in a "Saturday Night Live" classic sketch. "I found that funny. As a Caucasian male, I wasn't offended by it," Ralph said by phone on Monday.
So Ralph was surprised when a review of "Hockey. A Brutal Game?" 22 years ago said the "The NHL Rap" had "slight hint of racism" in its presentation.
"Ignorance is usually a great excuse, but there was no intent," he said.
"But when I saw that whole Whoopi Goldberg/Ted Danson thing [at the Friar's Club] and thought, 'Oh god.'"
Ralph said it was a different era for comedy, with different sensitivities than today — look no further than Raffi Torres-as-Jay-Z on Halloween. But as far as racial intent back then?
"Oh god no. That's not exactly a way to try to start a career, is it?" Ralph said."I've always made fun of myself. So I don't take anyone else that seriously either."
(* Using the term "blackface" can be contentious. We feel it's an apt description for this, but read up on its history.)
s/t Reader Bill H.