I’m a bit perturbed by the NHL’s decision not to punish Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds for “allegedly” yelling an anti-gay slur at Rangers forward Sean Avery in a preseason game a few nights ago.
Remember, Avery publicly supported the push to legalize gay marriage in New York a while back, becoming the first pro athlete (of a major North American team sport) to make a PSA about the issue. This guy has cojones of steel to do that in an environment where no active player has EVER come out of the closet, indicating just how taboo homosexuality still is in team sports.
After a league hearing with Simmonds on Tuesday, NHL senior VP Colin Campbell made a statement condemning racist/sexist/homophobic comments, yet said the league did not have enough evidence to punish Simmonds. What do you mean you don’t have enough evidence? One doesn’t even have to be able to read lips to clearly see Simmonds yell “f***ing f****t” in this video (watch it here… http://fitperez.com/2011-09-27-philadelphia-flyer-calls-sean-avery-a-gay-slur#.ToN5lpY090o ).
While you can’t see Avery in the video, since he told the media about the incident right after the game, I think it’s safe to put two and two together on this one. But no, the NHL didn’t do that, instead, turning the situation it into a game of “he said, he said,” with Avery coming out on the losing end.
When it comes to dating, my friend Melissa always says this about men: actions speak louder than words. The same rule must be applied here. Condemning a behavior then refusing to punish it sends a mixed message. We saw the NBA fine Kobe Bryant $100k for directing the other “F” word at a referee last season. Not only that, but Bryant went on a full media blitz apologizing all over the place and the NBA even made public service announcements about the issue.
Here’s what I think the real issue is. Remember when Charlie Villanueva accused Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient” while trash talking during an NBA game last season? I recall various players and media personalities say that whatever is said on the court between two players should stay there and not be subjected to outside scrutiny; the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” principle. Trash talking is just part of the game, no matter how nasty it gets. But I’m not buying it. If a white player called a black player the “N” word during a game, would that be acceptable because of where it was said? I think not.
This illusion of privacy or a sacred environment while playing a professional sport is just that; an illusion. Games are played in front of thousands of fans, not to mention millions of TV viewers. Close-ups, replays, and microphones are capable of capturing nearly every millisecond of a game on video. What a player does or says on the field is a public display open for interpretation, inspection, criticism and complaint by all those watching, thus team management and leagues must find a way to hold people accountable.
If your inner monologue is reading, “calm down, it’s sports. Politics don’t belong here,” you are fooling yourself. Sports has long been a platform for civil rights and social justice. Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Not long ago, I saw an athlete tweet something to the effect of, do this, or else you’re gay. The second I read it, I texted the athlete, who is a young guy with thousands of followers, and suggested he delete the tweet immediately. A few minutes later, the tweet was gone, and shortly thereafter I got a text message from him saying, you know that’s not how I meant it. He also said that some of his twitter followers had tweeted him saying they were offended and were going to unfollow him. I went on to give him a motherly lecture via text, explaining that if that’s the case, you shouldn’t have said it. Say what you mean, and unless you mean homosexual, leave the word gay alone. He responded saying he understood, and that not only would he not use the world publicly, but he would try his best to eliminate it from his every day vocabulary.
Even though he is just one guy, the transformation has to start somewhere. That’s why the NBA fined Kobe. They started the trend that such language wouldn’t be tolerated on the court, which will hopefully serve as a deterrent and force players into the habit of thinking before speaking. I wish the NHL would’ve done the same.
P.S. Simmonds should just admit what he did, apologize for it and move on. People are willing to forgive those who admit their mistakes, but BSing and refusing to fess up is pretty weak and very disappointing (especially given what happened to him last Thursday in Ontario).
Sad Reality Check Comes To Flyers’ Simmonds By Way Of Banana Peel
A harsh irony fell from the upper deck, onto the ice directly in front of Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds at the John Labatt Centre Thursday night in London, Ontario.
Just two days earlier, CSNPhilly.com published an article on Simmonds, who was traded to Philadelphia from the LA Kings last June, titled, “Simmonds Proud To Represent Black Hockey Players.”
In the article, Simmonds, a Scarborough, Ontario native, told writer Jabari Greer that race-related negativity in hockey, “really doesn’t happen in Canada. That’s pretty much the way it is.”
But it wasn’t that way Thursday night as a fan threw a banana peel onto the ice while Simmonds was skating on a shootout attempt. Yes, he still scored the goal. No, the Flyers did not win the game.
After the exhibition loss to the Red Wings, Simmonds told Frank Seravalli, the Flyers beat writer for The Philadelphia Daily News, “I caught it from the side of my eye. It was a banana. Hopefully it wasn’t directed towards me being black. Because if it was, that’s just somebody being ignorant.”
There’s bad news, and there’s good news here. Bad news first. Racism is still alive and well, not only in the United States and Canada, but in countries worldwide. With plenty of accomplished, successful and accepted black role models in North America, I think a 23-year-old like Simmonds is vulnerable to being easily blindsided by such an overt display of racism. Plus, don’t forget that until now, Simmonds’ only home arena as a pro was Staples Center. I can tell you from experience that the crowd at an LA Kings home game is one of the more diverse you’ll see at an NHL arena.
But here’s the good news. In a sport that is predominantly white on the ice (there are only about 20 black players), in the front office and in the stands, Simmonds teammates and others in the NHL community are embracing him right now; something that I’m not sure would have happened even just a few years ago.
According to Seravalli (http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/20110922_Fan_tosses_banana_peel_at_Flyers_Simmonds.html), a player in the Flyers dressing room said after the game, “I would have went and kicked that fan’s ass myself.” Here are a few tweets that popped up on my timeline as well.
@CstewSTL25 chris stewart The incident that happened in london tonight involving my best friend wayne simmonds was simply disgusting, its 2011 ppl need to grow up,
@Logancouture Logan Couture Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened tonight to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports, or life.
@KevinWeekes Kevin WeekesFor those that asked : I’m extremely disappointed with what happened to Wayne Simmonds tonight in London Ont.We’ve taken HUGE steps to Grow the game of hockey,as I speak Willie O’Ree and I are in D.C attending the Black Congressional Caucus on behalf of the
#NHL & ironically This takes place:( There’s NO place for this in sports since sport connects us not divides us. Much love to all the true&Classy #NHL Fans…
The public display of support from these guys, as well as several others I’ve read over the last couple of hours gives me some hope. This type of attitude and cultural acceptance has to come from within the NHL itself.
If white players sincerely support and defend their black teammates, that sentiment will trickle down to the fan base. While I might be oversimplifying this idea, I think you get my drift. Hopefully this incident can help turn things around by bringing a taboo topic out into the limelight.
Above is a video of the then-Atlanta Thrashers’ four black players being interviewed about the role that race plays in hockey. Their comments are pretty interesting. The Thrashers took some heat for supposedly playing to the city’s demographic by having five black players on the roster at one point. Some thought that while several NHL teams had zero black players, it was no coincidence that Atlanta, which, according to the 2010 census, has a 54% African-american population, had five black players.
No need to question that situation at this point since the Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets. Regardless, the video is worth watching, as is Jabari Young’s article about Simmonds worth reading (http://www.csnphilly.com/hockey-philadelphia-flyers/news/Simmonds-proud-to-represent-black-hockey?blockID=565164&feedID=695).
At the end of the day, one can hope that positive results will somehow stem from this negative and unfortunate incident.