Opinion: Racism rears ugly head again

Wayne Simmonds. Courtesy NHL.

We asked five of our sportswriters here at the Toronto Observer to pen their thoughts on the “banana incident”. Here is T.J. Llewellyn’s. We also present Ryan Fines’, Jonathan Brazeau’s, Mike Woodrow’s and Adam Martin’s.

Racism is a topic that deeply disturbs me. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it and why it exists. I try my best to see what could lead an individual down that path mentally.

It could be a number of things, negative experiences with a certain ethnicity, it could’ve been instilled in them from childhood, but no matter how much I try to look at every angle of the issue, it always comes back to ignorance.

During an exhibition game at a neutral site in London, Ontario between the Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings, a banana peel (or a full banana) was thrown from the crowd towards an unsuspecting Wayne Simmonds as he was going in on the shootout.

Earlier in the week, before he became the target of a racially motivated and mindless prank, an earnest Simmonds told CSN Philly that racial negativity in hockey, “really doesn’t happen in Canada.”

While there isn’t any resounding evidence to the contrary, the incident that took place on Thursday night must’ve left the Philadelphia Flyers’ forward at least a little perturbed.

In Canada, we don’t witness the levels of racism that is exuded in the United States or Europe, but that doesn’t mean it’s absent from our society. Just as a thief in the night, racism stays out of plain sight and attacks when we least expect it.

Simmonds already belongs in select company being one of a small group of black players in the NHL (about 20). If that realization doesn’t give the Scarborough, Ontario native a feeling of isolation, then Thursday night’s incident surely did the job.

To his credit, the 23-year old Simmonds handled the situation with a great amount of poise and maturity, he even scored on the play.

“It was unfortunate that this incident happened but I am above this sort of stuff,” Simmonds said in a statement. “This is something that is out of my control.

“Moving forward, this incident is something I will no longer comment on so I can just focus on playing hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers.”

Former NHL player Kevin Weekes, who is also black, wasn’t as composed as Simmonds, demanding that legal action should be taken against the individual responsible.

“Right away, security should have grabbed that person and then let the local law enforcement on site take it from there,” Weekes said to the Washington Post. “It’s not like people didn’t know who was sitting beside them.”

Racism is a touchy subject in our community. In my experience, people seem to get an incredible uncomfortable feeling when confronting the subject and that leads to the suppression of the issue instead of dealing with it head on.

In European soccer, African players are constantly subjected to discriminatory chants and gestures.  Those in power have made numerous attempts to remove it from the game through fan punishment and anti-racism campaigns, but its stench never truly dissolves.

Until we learn to respect and accept others’ differences, racism will never disappear. As much as we want to deny its existence, it’s the elephant in the room that is responsible for the awkward tension between races that no one wants to address.

I just wish Simmonds didn’t have to suffer that sort of embarrassment due to the ignorance of another. No one should.

About this article

By: TJ Llewellyn
Posted: Sep 23 2011 10:15 pm
Filed under: Hockey Sports