Posted by: Adventures in Pucking | September 23, 2011

Talk of uncomfortable things

Hey, fellow hockey fans! It’s time to have a Serious Talk about a super duper hot-button issue. It’s time we talked about issues of race in the sport. Let’s talk about the fact that Wayne Simmonds, pictured above, was just doing his job last night during a game against Detroit in London, Ontario when suddenly an unknown person in the crowd threw a banana at him. Yes, a banana. Now that we know what happened, let’s get really hot-button here.

The way I see it, it was motivated by racism, even if it was latent and not as obvious as racist acts were back in the days of Jim Crow laws, hoses turned on peaceful protestors and little kids having to be escorted to newly-desegregated schools by the National Guard. Racism wears a cloak these days that sometimes makes it invisible to otherwise well-meaning, good-hearted people. These otherwise lovely people immediately denounce the response to the banana incident: What if it was just a fan being a jerk and they weren’t racially-motivated? Why do you have to make everything about race? Aren’t you being a racist by pointing this out?

1. I suppose the person could’ve been a jerk; as far as I know, they haven’t gone on the record yet, although if I were on the beat, I’d be scouring London to try and find this guy (I presume it’s a man)

2. Because race still plays a huge role in life, even though it’s 2011 and America has a biracial president (who, by the way, endures a lot of veiled-racist rhetorical attacks from many sources, as well as the more obvious and upsetting Photoshopped photos of him as a chimpanzee or having the front lawn at the White House planted with watermelons), even though Canada too is very diverse and had a black female Governor General until last October, even if we don’t want to admit it because it’s awkward and uncomfortable to do so sometimes

3. Simply put, no; calling out racist acts and rhetoric does not make the caller-outer racist themselves because it’s important to identify problematic things in our society

I do have to wonder how the person got a banana into the arena in the first place. I remember one time having to ditch a ziploc bag of four Oreos I’d brought from home, intending to eat as a snack on the train but forgetting to eat, before entering a Thrashers game simply because the bag searcher saw them in my purse and told me to make them disappear. Same with a cup of water from the Arby’s in the adjoining CNN Center. Maybe the arena this game was at has less strict security than Philips Arena, where they were really serious about people not bringing in outside food or drink, or someone inside was selling fresh fruit. However, having seen the range of arena food, I think that’s a bit unlikely. Former Ontario minor league coach Greg Walsh is with me on this: “But the thing that disturbs me is that I do not believe for a minute that any hockey arena in Ontario is selling bananas. What that tells me is what happened was premeditated, and that’s very disturbing.” (That article I linked to there is great, by the way.)

Here's a picture of arena food to lighten the mood. That rhymed.

There’s a pattern of this behavior, too: In 2002, the exact same thing happened to Kevin Weekes, who is black and was a goalie for Carolina at the time, during a playoff game in Montreal. (Related: I feel a lot of the “disrespectful” rhetoric people use to talk about PK Subban is motivated by latent racism as well. PK’s a good, talented, nice guy–and I’m a Bruins fan! There’s no call for it.) The article linked there notes that banana-throwing is often seen at European soccer games and Canadian junior hockey games too. Also note how Weekes and Simmonds both responded to these classless incidents:

  • Weekes wasn’t concerned, told the league to let it go and said it wasn’t going to mar his experiences of playing in Montreal.
  • Simmonds said it is something he just has to deal with as a black player in a predominantly white sport.

Note that, nine years later, the league did respond–it denounced the “stupid and ignorant action,” which is surprisingly direct and I like it–as did London’s mayor, but these seemingly isolated incidents are all pieces of a disturbing puzzle. Simply put, some fans aren’t keen (to put it in the BBC’s charming wording) on the fact that the face of hockey is changing, that players like Simmonds, Subban, Jamal Mayers, Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Anthony and Chris Stewart, Johnny Oduya (I guess I’m using a lot of former Thrashers here because we started last season as the team with the most black players in the entire league), Devin Setoguchi, Al Montoya, Jordin Tootoo (hey, Natives count!) and more are taking the ice and playing the game they love.

Too bad that their bigoted opinion doesn’t matter. The game is only going to get more and more diverse, just as the faces of America and Canada are changing too. It’s best they just examine their views, their privileges and why on earth they think this way anyway. Perhaps then they can experience the personal growth that will bring them in line with those of us who don’t care what someone looks like, what their name is, what faith they believe in (or if they have none, which is okay too), who they love or anything so long as they play the game and do it well and fairly.

However, it’s a shame that in this day and age, black players say that things like these are what they have to deal with in play. It should not have to be this way. Here are a list of the things that are okay to throw on the ice:

  • hats, if someone gets a hat trick and you don’t mind potentially not seeing that hat again
  • octopi, if you’re in Detroit
  • toy rats, if you’re in Sunrise
  • a crystal-studded sombrero, if you’re in Uniondale (according to Vicky)

That’s about it. None of those things are ever aimed especially at a certain player and none of them have racially-tinged layers of meaning. That’s how you do it right.

Phew! Wasn’t that an interesting talk? Let’s get back to enjoying what we love and not caring about how the players look!


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