Friday, September 23, 2011

Gone Bananas

I wasn't going to write anything about the "Wayne Simmonds incident" when I first heard about it. I didn't want to give the perpetrator any more fame than that for which he originally bargained. However, the idea that it should be called the "Wayne Simmonds incident" made me angry. Wayne Simmonds was nothing but the vehicle for a hateful message.

For those of you who are uninitiated into the ugly side of hockey and its fans, a person in the stands in a preseason game in London, Ontario, hurled a banana peel into the path of Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who's black, as he advanced in a shootout. The reaction in the face of such a blatant insult has been predictable. Fans, analysts and players have mostly all been shouting down the intention of such a gesture. Black players are good, they're strong and they're accepted on hockey teams the same as any player who's white, native or Asian. To the players, that is.

Fans, however, don't live up to such high standards. If there's any recent example in the NHL, it's that of P.K.Subban. Subban broke into the league with a bang last year. He was brash, bold, outspoken, and, above all, supremely talented. Yet, many people failed to recognize his skill in the face of behaviour some decried. Under the microscope, Subban's behaviour was nothing out of the ordinary. Subban loves celebrating goals. So did Teemu Selanne, Theo Fleury, Alex Ovechkin and countless others. Yet, when Subban did it, players suddenly found fault. Subban was "disrespectful." If he didn't stop, "something would happen to him."

The righteous among us, who would love to believe racism is a thing of the past, sneer at such a comparison of experience. Yet, fans throw bananas, and players look askance at a star of a different colour who faces them across the ice, while opposing fans jeer him.

We'd like to think sports are as well-adjusted as the rest of society, but we forget that we make these guys who they are. Fans set the standards of what they'll pay to see. Kids who don't measure up in skills learn how to fight, to entertain fans. We like brawls.

We're not sure about gay guys. Sure, it was nice that Brian Burke's kid broke some ground toward acceptance, but we're not sure we'd really want that guy on our team. We're equally unsure about black guys. They don't play hockey. They run, they jump, they race, they win Super Bowls and Olympic gold medals. They don't skate. At least in some fans' minimal world experience. So, when a guy who's black turns out to be a hell of a hockey player, some of us look at it as an exception. We...them...the separation continues in the closed-circuit world of hockey.

That's got to end. Hockey is a universal sport, with universal players. All fans need to learn to appreciate skill, regardless of colour, religion or sexual orientation. The sad part is, most of us do that already. We just love the game and we're in awe of those who can play it at a level to which we could never aspire. Still, the cretins, the one in a hundred who sees the world the way it used to be, find something to ridicule.

I admire Wayne Simmonds. Last night, having seen the banana peel on the ice, he kept going and still scored in the shootout. Today, when pressed for a response to the incident, he replied, "I'm above that stuff."

P.K. Subban tweeted that he supports Simmonds for being so strong through all of this. Yet, you wonder, how many young black players weren't so strong? How many heard the taunts and saw the banana peels and decided hockey wasn't worth it?

This isn't something the NHL or any other league can fix. This is society. This is a decision made by one guy who wanted to hurt someone, but nobody else who witnessed it stopped him. Somebody has to be the guy who stops that racist guy. Hockey depends on it.


Anonymous said...

Amen !!!!

Anonymous said...

PK and his dad are very well spoken on this and other subjects. The thing about a banana is that it only an insult if you let it be an insult. Like the boo-birds at the Bell the banana reflects on the banana thrower not the target. Besides today the term banana has been taken by aisans. They use it to mean an asian who has become so North American that they aren't aisan (yellow outside, white inside). Funny isn't it. Using a person's ability to adapt and succeed as an insult - again what does that say about the insulter.

Now getting back to real stuff - have you noticed that Avtsin and Tinordi, while looking like they're trying to figure out what the satff want, do not really cause any problems? Sure Gallagher scoots all over the place, Diaz looks better than Weber at two years older, and everybody expects Yemelin to do his job - but Avsatin and Tinordi for all their awkwardness don't seen to hurt the team performance. Either they are being played against equitable competition or the future is very bright for the team. Young Beaulieu has PK's spark but for every 10 goals he will be on the ice for seven will be by the other team. Couple more years.

moeman said...

Well said. I'll add that the media outcry fails to mention Don Cherry's less than subtle racism.

seriousHabit said...

Racism is a very complex and oftentimes subtle power play that is meant to humiliate, ridicule and reduce its victims.

It always surprises me how many people whom are not of the targetted group claim that no offence should be taken (it was a joke), it is important to take into account the historical significance of the banana and its use. The person who was throwing the banana may or may not be aware of how early societies justified the horrors visited upon people of colour, by stating that they were not human. This is what is being said, it is more than an insult and it is the symbolism of a flawed and sick individual who has little regard for others.

With regards to Asians appropiating the term banana, this may be true but it has zero bearing on what happened in London. Truthfully you are correct an insult is only effective if it is taken as an insult.

But what do you say to the young fans who see this kind of behaviour? what do you say to the young atheletes who share the same skin colour and are subjected to such an affront?

There was'nt only one person or victim in London, it was an affront to many, think about the young children who have witnessed this and the mothers and fathers who are left to explain such hatred and malice. Racism is about power, and the weak individuals who use it against the innocent.

Anonymous said...

@seriousHabit. You say to people what PK and his dad say. Effectively that you have things of more consequence to concern yourself with than the mentally ill running amok. (mentally ill is my wording)

Do you believe that this hatred isn't heard by Crosby at the Bell? Do you think that any Habs player doesn't get this from a segment of the boo-bird fanbase? Haters are haters. Being black or yellow or brown or white isn't a race. That is a pigment. Haters hate themselves, for what they are, and reflect it outwards in a cowardly fashion. No more complicated than that.

The only way you can be insulted by a hater is to allow yourself to be insulted IMHO. The only victims in London were those that wanted to be. I understand that this is PC Canada and right now a banana registry is in the works but I would suggest that you don't "tell" young players or kids anything. Instead you should ask them what they are hearing from their peers. Because when you are young you want to fit in and the most popular kid isn't the hard working studious athletic polite kid but the one who makes people laugh by acting out. Guess why.

RL said...

I recall back in 2002, on Hockey night in Canada, the Habs against the Canes' Kevin Weekes, a black goaltender, and some Hab fan hurled a banana at him too. Everyone was uphauled... especially the CBC guys, Cherry most of all. I think that event confirmed to him what he always suspected of us Quebecois.... I would love to hear what he has to say about the "Simmonds incident" right in the heart of Ontario.

seriousHabit said...

J.T thanks for an excellent read and the opportunity to comment. Cheers.