Simmonds rises above hateful incident Print
Columns
Written by Denis Gorman   
Saturday, 24 September 2011 14:01

Race is an uncomfortable subject but as the Wayne Simmonds incident shows it still exists and that education is important.

Denis GormanThere is a derisive term for newspaper sports departments.

They are called The Toy Department.

It is understandable, really. Instead of reporting the news about politics, crime, business and society, sports sections report on athletes and games and trades.

Sports are viewed as an entertaining diversion from the daily rigors of life.

Except that it is not.

Sports are part of the fabric of our culture and our culture is part of the fabric of sports. Within the last year there have been countless stories written about the NFL and NBA lockouts (business), the New York Islanders quest for a new arena (politics) and current and former athletes and executives being arrested (crime).

The reporting on societal aspects in sports sections equal those in other sections of the newspaper save for one: race.

Race lurks uncomfortably beneath the surface and rarely is discussed because those discussions are uncomfortable and in a talk-radio world, unintelligent. There are times when race bulls its way into the consciousness of sports and Thursday night in London, Ontario, at the John Labatt Centre, it raised its head again.

As Wayne Simmonds bore down on Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jordan Pearce in a shootout, an anonymous coward committed the despicable act of throwing a banana towards the Philadelphia Flyer, who is black. It was the second time Simmonds had a banana thrown at him in the game.

The racial overtones are as obvious as they are vile.

After a 4-3 shootout loss to Detroit, the Philadelphia right wing rose above when asked about the unidentified fan's premeditated acts.

"I caught it from the side of my eye," Simmonds told the Philadelphia Daily News "It was a banana. Hopefully, that wasn't directed towards me being black because if it was, that's just somebody being ignorant.

"When you're a black man playing in a predominantly white man's sport, you've got to come to expect things like that. 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 kind of just left things roll off [my back]. I try not to think about stuff like that"

Simmonds did score on the one-on-one against Pearce and the goal with 53 seconds left in the third period tied the game 3-3.

"You can't stop playing just because something is being thrown at you," said Simmonds, who was acquired from Los Angeles in the blockbuster Mike Richards' deal. "Besides, my initial reaction was that I would get to shoot again if I didn't score. I didn't even need that."

The incident should not be a referendum on London, the 7,426 fans who enjoyed two-and-half hours of professional hockey, the National Hockey League and its fans. But as London Mayor Joe Fontana and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged in statements the municipality and the league's fanbase has been tainted as by a coward's deed.

"It was a stupid and mindless act by one individual," Fontana's statement read. "It reflects badly on our community. London is a diverse and welcoming city and we like it that way."

"We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game," said Bettman's statement, released Friday morning. "The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario."


           

The answer is and has always been education. We must continue to teach that the pigmentation of one's skin does not define their person.


           
The public stances taken by Fontana and Bettman are without question.

But there is a bigger societal question that must be asked. Why would one fan think to commit such a hideous action?

There has always been racism in our society. However, in a Tea Party world and Fox News world, it seems as if we have become meaner and more willing to utter outrageous words than in the past. Audience members at two GOP Presidential debates cheered Texas' death penalty statistics and the idea of an uninsured 30-year old dying because they could not afford a health care plan.

At another GOP Presidential debate Thursday night, those in attendance booed a gay solider for having the temerity in 2011 to say he was gay before asking the Republican hopefuls if they would reinstate the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

So how do we raise our level of discourse?

It is not, as one unidentified Flyer told the newspaper, by kicking "that fan's ass." As the Ron Artest incident in the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 19, 2004 taught, the athlete that charges into the spectator seating to confront an abusive fan will be condemned; the loathsome action that preceded it will become an afterthought.

Rather, the answer is and has always been education. We must continue to teach that the pigmentation of one's skin does not define their person. Thursday night, Simmonds' character showed an honorable man while the fan proved pathetic.

Certainly, there will be those who will feel compelled to commit acts like those in Detroit and London no matter the time teachers spent attempting to educate. So they must be held accountable for their actions by explaining their actions to their targets and society at large.

What would the fan in London say to Simmonds if the two met face-to-face? How would the fan respond if forced to answer questions from the public regarding his actions and why he committed them? How would he react to their reaction to his words?

We may never know and that is a shame.

Many in society argue the philosophy of ignoring the ignorant; to let them spew their inanity while the majority goes about our daily lives. In a Utopian world, the ignorant would eventually tire of the sound of their voice.

It is an interesting theory except the world is not and never has been Utopian.

Instead, the task of reporting and exposing the kind of ignorance and hate falls to society as a whole and, specifically, journalists.

Even to those in the Toy Department.

On Twitter: @HockeyPrimeTime and @DenisGorman

Photos by Getty Images

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2011 10:51