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When Hockey Transcends Hockey…

I’m half Chinese.  The other day I was talking to a friend about the difference in perception of racist jokes depending on the target race.  For instance, a racist joke against a black person might be met with, “Whoa dude, not cool.”  Whereas a joke about an Asian person might be laughed at and not thought twice about.  Part of this is because of the dark history of racial oppression and slavery against blacks in the United States.  However, there is an equally dark though not often mentioned racial history concerning Asians in this country, going back to the treatment of Chinese workers while building the railroads to the Japanese internment camps during WWII.  So, is it any more acceptable to make a joke at an Asian person’s expense than it is to make one at a black person’s?  Of course not.

Last night during a game in Detroit (correction, the game was in London, Ontario) versus the Redwings, Philadelphia Flyers player Wayne Simmonds had a banana peel thrown at him during the shootout.  While the person who threw the banana peel was not caught and the intent is not certain, the point of throwing a banana peel at an African-Canadian player is quite arguably racially motivated.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never laughed at a racist joke.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve never told a racist joke.  I’m not even going to say that racist jokes can’t be funny at the right time or place.  After all, we have all laughed at Dave Chappelle. Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters routine is almost entirely racial and he’s very funny.  Why then do these men, both of different ethnic backgrounds tell these jokes?  Much like the black community’s attempted appropriation of the “N” word, they use racist jokes as an attempt to steal their power.  I use the word “attempt” because it has not been completely successful.  Racist jokes still hurt.  The “N” word still hurts.

There are many cultural and racial differences in this incredibly diverse world of ours.  Those cultural differences makes for a rich wealth of variety in art, food, customs, etc.  At times those differences can be shocking, disturbing, and yes, even amusing.  However, targeting an individual with a racist joke or racial antagonism singles them out.  It says, “You’re different than us.  You don’t belong.  This isn’t your place.”  Believe it or not, no matter how small or benign a racial joke is, it still plucks at that heartstring.

This year, the United Stated erected a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C.  The monument itself was designed by a Chinese artist.  Someone suggested that it was sad that a black artist was not chosen to design the monument to the greatest black figure in our nation’s history.  However, one journalist pointed out that Dr. King advocated racial equality for everyone and that it was the most fitting thing of all for a non-black artist to design the monument.  It shouldn’t be about one race getting recognition or special treatment over another.  It’s about accepting everyone for who they are, aside from the color of their skin.

While the NHL is largely a white dominated sport, as the years pass it becomes more and more racially diverse.  It’s not uncommon to see Wayne Simmonds, or Jordin Tootoo, or Nazem Kadri, or Devin Setoguchi.  I’d like to think that the NHL has one of the most accepting communities as well.  There is a certain honor and respect that NHL players and NHL fans uphold toward the game and toward each other.  Let’s not mar the game and disrespect its people, regardless of their race.

We’re better than that.  All of us.

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Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney

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In response to “When Hockey Transcends Hockey…”

  1. Dan Rakusan Sep 23 20111:30 pm


    Eric – I’m not condoning the actions of the fan at the game last night, but I will say this: Racism is pretty much a dead science. Most people don’t participate other than laughing at jokes, or telling them. I believe racism is perpetuated by the fact that people can’t let go of the past. Essentially, Jewish people face racism because they hold EVERYONE accountable for the Holocaust. Blacks face racism because they hold ALL WHITE people accountable for slavery. Asians face racism because they can’t drive (ok, bad joke)…

    I think it is completely different when a comedian (a professional) is making the jokes, and people pay to watch it. Hell, Eddie Murphy made a career out of it.

    The problem is that there are really no funny white stereotypes to balance things out.

    As to the issue of Wayne Simmonds, it is absolutely disgusting to me that someone would throw a banana out while he’s going into his shootout try. I think it would be somewhat different if it were Donald Brashear, as he is an ape in every sense of the word, but Simmonds isn’t a pure goon…

    Again, not saying it would even be right in Brashear’s case, but it might at least be a bit funnier…

    1. Eric Cooney Sep 23 20111:40 pm


      Dan, you make a lot of good points. However I think the inherent problem is that racism isn’t the same for everyone. Personally I can poke fun at myself and my race from time to time. Even other people can make jokes and it won’t bother me. It bothers me when the underlying sentiment is malicious. The problem is that it’s not always clear when that is the case.

      It’s never truly going away because Jewish people won’t forget the holocaust. Black people won’t forget slavery AND THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO. Those are great tragedies. Racial sensitivity will always exist and it’s our part as human beings of any race to treat the subject carefully. Know your audience. Know your history. Be mindful and considerate of others. No matter how much I’d like to not be bothered by racist jokes, I instinctively react to them. It’s hurtful to the core. And that’s even in front of friends, let alone 18,000 people.

      1. Dan Rakusan Sep 23 20111:48 pm


        Eric, I don’t suggest that we should forget history, but simply – we should know it IS HISTORY. Once people can get beyond that, and somewhat remove themselves from the situation personally (let’s face it, there’s not too many people who were slaves or in Auschwitz left on the planet), we’ll see a lot less perceived “racism”. My issue is that I am confronted with direct statements by people of “minority” groups accusing me of racism, which simply isn’t true. I never owned slaves, and have never been in the Third Reich as I’m simply too young. Once we stop asking for restitution, we’ll all be better off.

        It’s the same thing with homosexual/gay-pride parades. The time of people “gay-bashing” is pretty much behind us, simply due to the credo that “What happens in our bedroom is nobody else’s business”, and yet then, they parade around in ultra-flamboyant outfits with plastic penises all over the place. This is what causes a homophobic reaction. We’re fine with people being gay, but if it’s none of our business, why is it being flaunted in such a disgusting way? Essentially – you’re looking for a reaction, and have no idea what kind of reaction you’re going to get.

        Again, I’m not really racist, but I am a racialist. I recognize and even respect the differences between people. I pay homage to people who suffered or died in the past based strictly on who they were. Rosa Parks is an icon, as is Martin Luther King Jr. I can’t profess a deep knowledge of what they went through, but I respect them.

        I came from a Czech family who endured the Nazis, and Commies from USSR. My family still looks at me funny when I cheer for Russia over Canada in hockey. I just prefer the skill over physicality. Has nothing to do with nationality.

        Anyway, didn’t want to stir the pot… Just putting my view out there…

        1. Eric Cooney Sep 23 20111:55 pm


          Your view is valid, Dan, and I appreciate it. I think there are a lot of different angles to racism and it just needs to be treated with consideration from both sides. For me personally, when someone makes a Chinese joke, I like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re kidding and not racist. But the truth is that’s not always the case. Where I will try to get people leeway in that regard, I expect some consideration from the other side as well. I don’t mean people need to be treated with kid gloves all the time, or forever, I just think a little consideration from everyone can go a long way.

          It would be a sad world if we could make fun of ourselves, or someone else. But it’s an even sadder one if that’s all we see in them. My fear isn’t the racist jokes that are meant to be funny. It’s the the racial jokes that aren’t really jokes that scare me.

          1. Dan Rakusan Sep 23 20111:59 pm

            I agree Eric. The bassist in my band is half Chinese, and half Native (well, there’s other mixes too, but on a smaller percentage). We joke all the time, but I never know when I’m potentially crossing a line. He’s pretty easy-going though, so it’s never a big deal. I try to avoid it, but let’s face it – edgy humour is always funnier than safe jokes…

            At any rate, the fan who threw a banana on the ice wasn’t making a joke. He was simply being a douchebag. Ignorant prix like that should have no right to participate in regular societal affairs like a sporting event.

          2. Eric Cooney Sep 23 20112:01 pm

            Indeed. That guy was definitely a prick.

  2. Peggy Jones Sep 23 20111:31 pm


    Very well said Eric. Thank you!

  3. Christopher Rowe Sep 23 20112:53 pm


    Shouldn’t the issue be poor sportsmanship – or fan-man-ship in this case? The fan was being a prick with no respect for the game. Isn’t that the issue? Respect the game, respect the other paying fans in attendance, respect the players and respect other people who share the world with you

    1. Eric Cooney Sep 23 20112:58 pm


      Respect is absolutely a part of it. But how can you respect someone if you find them inferior to you? It would be a different conversation if he’d thrown a bottle or a hotdog on the ice.

  4. Steven Keys Sep 23 20113:02 pm


    Good post (and all comments), Eric. Sad happening in last nights contest. “Ignorance is forever busy and needs feeding,” someone once penned.

    I’m gonna’ go out on a limb here and assume it was a man who threw the banana peel, that it was racially-motivated, that he’s a racist, an idiot and would run for cover at the first sign of trouble. These guys usually do.

    Strange as it sounds, maybe something positive comes from this incident. Not just the racial awareness, but a call for an end to throwing of anything but hats onto the ice. The throwing of dead octopi onto the ice in Detroit is a stupid, cruel tradition that a great hockey town like Detroit shouldn‘t have to continue. That such beautiful, intelligent creatures are sacrificed for such a meaningless, boorish, juvenile prank is disturbing and sad.

    1. Eric Cooney Sep 23 20113:08 pm


      Good point. Throwing anything on the ice is dangerous. I mean, Manny Legace injured himself stepping out onto a red carpet for Sarah Palin 3 years ago. Now Imagine something makes it’s way under a player’s skates while going full speed in on a goaltender for the shootout. Not only could the skater get hurt, but the goaltender could get Malarchuk’d as well. It’s a shame they didn’t catch that guy, if for nothing else to make an example of him as far as safety for the players goes.

  5. mememine Sep 26 20119:02 am


    At the time of the incident, nobody said anything when the “racist” banana was thrown on the ice.
    So do the math sports fans;
    -political correctness,
    -racist protection laws based on “racism” and not blindness to colour,
    -Detroit Redwings who are known for originating throwing octopus on the ice,
    -Detroit was playing at the time of the incident and bananas have been used as cheap substitutes for octopus before.
    WE are the racists then?
    And just suppose who ever threw the banana didn’t like the player because he said something disagreeable to him or her in a bar or something. You don’t have to be a racist to not like someone, black or white.
    When black and white and yellow and red are not used to describe someone by Canadian law, only then will we have blindness to colour and true equality. Now our attempts at stamping out racism with more racism is just an insane witch hunt that history will mock us all for.

    1. Eric Cooney Sep 27 20111:24 am


      You make some interesting points. However, I don’t believe it was as benign as you describe.
      -The game wasn’t being played in Detroit, and while there were Detroit fans there, I don’t think it was a”Banana substitute for octopus” scenario
      -The octopus from my understanding is traditionally thrown before the game or after a goal, not during an opposing player’s shootout attempt
      -Just as one can infer that it was a “banana/octopus” substitute since it’s been done before, one can assume it’s a racial insult, since that has also been done before to Kevin Weekes.

      This isn’t about being color blind or the abolition of racism. It’s not about banning racist jokes, or even stereotyping. Stereotyping and generalizing is a common way our minds learn, categorize, and understand. It’s when it becomes a personal, degrading attack that I and many other people take issue.

      Think of something about yourself that you can’t change, something personal, serious, and with a certain amount of painful history. Now imagine someone singled it out and attacked it. I’d imagine it would be painful. If you don’t have anything like that regarding yourself, then I don’t imagine you’d understand.

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