What happened Thursday night to Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds wasn’t the first act of racism that he’s encountered in the sport of hockey, but it was probably the most blatant.
In a preseason game in London, Ontario, Canada, an object landed on the ice as Simmonds prepared for his shootout attempt against the Detroit Red Wings.
A banana peel.
With Simmonds being one of the few black players in the NHL, it doesn’t take much dot-connecting to figure out that the banana peel was a thinly-veiled allusion to Simmonds’ race.
The fact that someone would do something so ignorant in such a venue is probably more sad than it is offensive. In a world where information is available virtually on demand, there is still a sizeable segment of the population so uneducated and ill-informed that they find satisfaction in crudely insulting members of a different race.
The move was clearly a pre-meditated act: no one just “happens” to bring bananas with them to a preseason hockey game. And it wasn’t the first time during the game that the coward attempted the feat: according to reports, the fan tried to throw a banana peel on the ice after Simmonds scored late in the third period to tie the game at 3-3.
We’ll likely never know who threw the banana peel onto the ice. That’s the thing about many racists: they love to make a show of things, but are quick to hide when the glaring lights just might be shone upon them.
It was thought by some that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 would usher in some kind of post-racial society. That clearly isn’t the case, nor will it ever be. Quite simply, there will always be people who hate other people strictly on the basis of race - a trait which none of us has any control over.
While the incident occurred in Canada, it could just as well have taken place in any arena in the NHL (or any other league, for that matter). Other black hockey players - most notably Kevin Weekes and Peter Worrell - have said that they also endured racial slurs and taunts during their respective playing careers.
There’s always the hope that these types of actions - no matter how despicable - spark far greater reactions. Ideally, the NHL would use this incident as a springboard for a campaign against racism and/or discriminatory behavior in general. Similar initiatives have been embraced in the English Premier League, where many of the league’s black stars routinely deal with overt displays of racism from fans of opposing teams.
That isn’t likely to happen, however. On Friday, commissioner Gary Bettman offered a tersely worded apology and moved on. And while the NHL isn’t obligated to do anything in the case of Wayne Simmonds, perhaps they are ignorant of the power that they possess to effect change in situations such as these.
After the incident, Simmonds showed far more class than the person who tried to unnerve him.
“When you’re a black man playing in a predominantly white man’s sport, you’ve got to come to expect things like that,” Simmonds said. “Over the past 23 years of my life, I’ve come to expect some things like that. But I’m older and more mature now… I try not to think about stuff like that.”
He shouldn’t have to think about things like that. But the fact remains that racism is alive and well in and around this country, some 47 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
For the record, Simmonds scored on that shootout attempt when the banana peel was thrown.
Wayne Simmonds 1, Racism 0.