Wayne Simmonds officially has me confused.
During the shootout of an exhibition game played in London, Ontario last Thursday, an unruly fan threw a banana peel on to the ice while Simmonds, who is black, was taking his shot. And while his Flyers ended up losing the game 4-3 to the Red Wings, all the post-game attention was paid to Simmonds.
The guy could not have been classier in his response. Simmonds told reporters: “It was unfortunate that this incident happened but I am above this sort of stuff. This is something that is obviously out of my control. Moving forward, this incident is something that I will no longer comment on so I can just focus on playing hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers.” The entire sports world was on Wayne Simmonds’ side after he addressed the issue so calmly after the game.
This story should have had a happy ending. Simmonds should have remained a victim, but one with the strength to positively affect change in the game.
But it was not to be.
Following a game between the Flyers and Rangers on Monday night, New York winger Sean Avery told the media about an incident that occurred during the game between him and Simmonds. Avery explained how Simmonds used a homophobic slur to address him. The game video clearly shows Simmonds using a word few would describe as appropriate.
How could a guy who had a banana thrown at him just 4 nights before turn the tables so quickly and use a homophobic slur out on the ice? How could a guy who handled an ugly situation in such a classy manner suddenly become as classless as the fan who threw the banana on the ice?
In using the slur to address Avery, Simmonds squandered any chance he had to be an ambassador for black hockey players and a role model for young players. And there is no doubt that chance was huge after the banana incident. While I would guess Simmonds wished the banana never found its way onto the ice in the first place, the circumstance put the sports world’s spotlight directly on him. He had a chance to use the spotlight to empower young black athletes unsure of whether they want to play a sport dominated by white players. But after talking to Avery the way he did, Simmonds lost all the credibility and goodwill he gained after the contest in Ontario.
Maybe Simmonds just doesn’t care. Either way, I want to know who the real Wayne Simmonds is. Is Simmonds actually the person we saw on Thursday night, a man of character willing to rise above the immature act of a stupid fan? Or was he simply well coached by a Flyers public relations staffer? Maybe Simmonds doesn’t actually care about easing racial tension and being an ambassador for black hockey players.
If I had to guess, without knowing the man, Simmonds is probably closer to what we saw on Thursday night than what we saw on Monday night. During the last NBA season, both Joakim Noah and Kobe Bryant were fined for using homophobic slurs. Simmonds, Noah, and Bryant are examples of athletes that got caught. It is likely that racial, homophobic, and anti-Semitic words are slung around the court, ice, and field regularly without the public ever finding out. But just because the words are institutionalized on our playing fields doesn’t excuse Simmonds (or Bryant and Noah) from using them.
While many athletes might not know better than to use offensive words and slurs, Simmonds should know better than all. He was on the wrong end of a despicable act by a racist fan. And while he may have used the homophobic slur towards Avery out of habit, and without thinking anything of it, Simmonds also should have realized the position he was in. Maybe he truly is the classy athlete we saw on Thursday night. Regardless, he lost my respect and his credibility.