Not one week ago I wrote a blog on how disappointing it was for a fan to, in an act of racial prejudice and taunting, throw a banana peel at Wayne Simmonds, an African-Canadian hockey player for the Philadelphia Flyers. It was an act that mirrored similar incidents in the past with black players. Georges Laraque alleges that Sean Avery once called him a “monkey”, a comment that Avery denies. Kevin Weekes also had a banana thrown at him several years ago.
However, tonight something just a disheartening happened. During a heated game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, Wayne Simmonds allegedly called Sean Avery a homosexual slur. Avery confirmed that the comment was said and the video evidence sure looks like that particular slur coming from Simmonds’s mouth.
Look, I understand that things get heated in hockey games and words get exchanged between plays. Most of what’s said you wouldn’t want to repeat to your mother. I also understand that probably a majority of players say these largely offensive things and we’ll never know because we can’t see or hear what they are saying 9 times out of 10. Simmonds isn’t the first guy to utter this word and he certainly won’t be the last.
Yet, how can we as the hockey community accept this mere days after Simmonds himself was a target of hurtful slander? No matter how much Simmonds downplayed the incident in Ontario, one has to assume that prejudice like that doesn’t happen without any emotional response, even internal. So why is it okay to go on and inflict the same kind of emotional damage on someone else? It’s not okay.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Sean Avery or his feelings here. We all know he can dish it 10 times better than he can take it. The real issue here is that a fan, anonymously representing all prejudice hockey fans out there, insulted Simmonds. Instead of Simmonds showing that this isn’t the way, he’s inadvertently offended all anonymous fans that would identify themselves as targets of such a word.
I’m not trying to come down too hard on Simmonds here. I know what it’s like to get angry and say something I didn’t mean, or to go too far and insult someone incidentally. I’m upset that a lesson was missed. An opportunity for progress was missed. Simmonds and the hockey community as a whole, including Sean Avery are role models to impressionable people, both children and adult. This isn’t an eye for an eye. It’s a daisy-chain of ignorance and a lack of compassion passed on from one minority community to another.
I don’t know for sure if Simmonds actually said that word. Odds are we’ll never know for sure, just as we’ll never know if Avery called Laraque a monkey. However, the video is pretty damning and Avery’s accusation doesn’t help either. I’m not trying to crucify Wayne Simmonds. Nor am I suggesting the NHL needs to hand out penalties or suspensions for offensive language that occurs during a game. I just wish the NHL produced role models for their impressionable fans. I want the NHL to be great athletes and great people. Maybe that seems like too much to ask but I don’t think so.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
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