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More Than Just A Banana Peel Was Hurled At Philadelphia Flyers Forward Wayne Simmonds

Philadelphia Flyers right wing
Wayne Simmonds
Photo: National Hockey League

LOS ANGELES — With National Hockey League training camps having started this week, this is a time when North American hockey fans in particular should be celebrating the fact that the 2011-12 NHL season is just two weeks away.

We should also be celebrating the extraordinary career of one of the all-time greats, center Mike Modano, who will officially announce his retirement at a press conference later today.

NHL fans could also be celebrating new interpretations of rules governing hits from behind and contact with the head, along with pioneering efforts by NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan, to educate players, coaches, general managers, and fans alike through the use of video to explain his decisions in supplementary discipline cases, such as in the recent hitting from behind incident involving Calgary Flames forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, and a separate incident involving Philadelphia Flyers forward Jody Shelley.

Indeed, hockey fans should be rejoicing in the fact that the new season is almost upon us, and that maybe…just maybe…the NHL has finally gotten serious about hits to the head and hits from behind, and that supplementary discipline will no longer be one of the league’s biggest jokes.

Instead of celebrating all these things that are right and good in the hockey world, many are reeling in disgust at the incident during the September 22 pre-season game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Flyers in London, Ontario, where a “fan” threw a banana peel onto the ice, directly into the path of Flyers (and former Los Angeles Kings) right wing Wayne Simmonds, a Canadian of African descent, during a shootout.

According to various reports out of Philadelphia, Simmonds said that he saw the banana peel land on the ice, but it did not faze him. He scored anyway.

Another banana peel was allegedly thrown towards the ice at the 19:08 mark of the third period, when Simmonds scored to tie the game, but it did not reach the ice.

The same culprit is suspected of throwing both banana peels, but was not caught.

Obviously, if only one banana peel was tossed, it would be chalked up as just another idiot throwing debris onto the ice. But two banana peels? At the same target, who is of African descent?

Neither motive nor intent have been proven as of this writing. However, the likelihood that the incident had racial overtones is high, given the circumstances.

Although many have expressed disgust and outrage, I can already hear the murmurs…

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a fruit. No harm was done.”

Or perhaps…

“C’mon…it was just a joke. I can’t believe race had anything to do with it. The race card is used for everything!”

These days, one often hears people complain about someone “using the race card,” or you see them roll their eyes when accusations of racism or racial discrimination are made, whether it involves individuals, groups, businesses, corporations, institutions, law enforcement, or government.

Perhaps the most popular defense of those using racist, offensive language is, “…that’s just the PC crowd whining again.”

Undoubtedly, there will also be those who roll their eyes while reading this story, chalking it up as a huge overreaction.

Many people seem to believe that racism and discrimination barely exist, if at all, or they accuse the victims of being too sensitive.

These people are in denial.

Let’s face it, folks. Racism and discrimination still exist. To be sure, one does not often see the blatant acts of racism that were prevalent in the early years of American History through the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960’s, and even after that. Instead, racism has become much more sophisticated and institutionalized.

But all that is for another story.

The point here is not that the culprit should be identified and punished, even though the person responsible should have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Nor is this about the right to free speech—no one is denying the culprit that right.

However, this is about decency, the fact that racism is absolutely abhorrent, and that it has no place in our game, or our society.

One would like to think that those of us who love this game are above that kind of despicable behavior. But this is the kind of incident that makes you wish, for a brief moment, that there were requirements one has to meet before being allowed into an NHL arena. Of course, that would be absurd, but you get my point.

But all that does not address the question some undoubtedly have about the incident. As mentioned earlier, you know there are those out there who are thinking, “…what’s the big deal? It’s just a fruit. No harm was done.”

There was no physical harm done. After all, Simmonds spotted the banana peel, avoided it, scored, and lived to talk about it.

Indeed, there was no injury, and the banana peel did not impact the outcome of the game, not to mention that even if it did, this was a pre-season game that does not count in the standings, anyway. As such, the incident will soon be forgotten.

Although there is no need to dwell on this incident for all eternity, it should not be immediately forgotten or dismissed quickly. After all, it is an example of the kind of ignorance and, perhaps even hate, that is still out there, bubbling just under the surface.

It is something yours truly is all too familiar with.

Being an Asian American, more specifically, an American of Japanese ancestry, I remember growing up in Culver City, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, which was a predominantly white community during the early 1960’s through the early 1980’s, and, in many ways, still lacks ethnic diversity, especially in terms of political representation (again, that is for another story).

I remember being called a “Jap” several times by the neighborhood kids when we played in the streets. As a child, I did not know it was a derogatory term that is akin to using the “N” word to refer to an African American. I was also unaware of the fact that my peers in the neighborhood could have only learned that word from their parents.

Later on, I remember my parents telling me that Culver City was one of the few places they were allowed to purchase a home. In many areas, realtors told them they were not allowed to live there, and, even when pressed, they absolutely refused to show them any homes that were for sale.

Today, federal fair housing laws make “restricted covenants,” which dictated that only those of certain ethnic groups could live in a particular community, illegal. But back in the late 1960’s, they were still very much the unwritten law of the land, and banks, mortgage brokers and realtors abided by them religiously.

Even as an adult, there were a few incidents where someone on the street asked me where I was from. When I told them I was from the Los Angeles area, they shook their heads in disbelief and then asked, “no, no….where are you REALLY from? Where were you born? China? Japan?”

I have also been asked several times over the years, “you speak English very well! Where did you learn?”

Apparently, these ignoramuses were not aware that Japanese people have been in the United States since the mid-1800’s, and that the Chinese arrived here even before that.

I also think of my grandparents on my mother’s side, who toiled for long hours, doing back-breaking work in the pineapple and sugar cane fields on Maui, in Hawaii. They were victimized by racist plantation owners who exploited them as cheap labor, and then used racist tactics to keep their wages at rock-bottom levels, to keep them beholden to the plantation, and to get the workers from the different ethnic groups to fight amongst each other, rather than the real source of their problems…the plantation owners.

In one way, my parents and grandparents were lucky. Being in Hawaii when World War II broke out, they were left alone, unlike their counterparts on the mainland West Coast.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the round-up and incarceration of over 110,000 West Coast Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in ten American concentration camps (no, they were not like the Nazi death camps, and no one is making such a comparison), located in the most desolate regions of the United States.

There they would remain for more than three years. No charges were filed. No trials were held. Not a single shred of credible evidence linking any of these prisoners to espionage efforts was ever uncovered, and the United States Government even had a classified study in its possession that indicated that the Japanese American community (including the immigrant parents) was “intensely loyal” to the United States.

The unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is generally considered to be one of the darkest chapters in American History, a huge blot on our nation’s record and conscience.

In 1983, more than forty years later, a federal commission studying the incarceration found that it was caused by “race prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Getting back to the banana peel incident…it pales in comparison to all that I just described, and my intention was certainly not to equate it to any of that. Nevertheless, it illustrates the fact that many of the same attitudes and much of the same ignorance that resulted in such horrific events in our history still exists.

Hate crimes continue to make headlines, and hate groups, including white supremacist organizations, are reportedly thriving.

Perhaps the most visible targets now are Muslim Americans, who have been victimized constantly by racial profiling, or worse, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Apparently, the prevailing sentiment is that if you are of Arab descent and/or of the Muslim faith, you must be a terrorist.

For a Japanese American, that sentiment hits way, way too close to home.

Indeed, that is exactly what people said about Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents (who were prevented from becoming naturalized citizens until 1952 due to racist laws) almost 70 years ago, even though they had already been in this country for about 100 years, and that two-thirds of those forced to abandon their homes, businesses, and communities were native-born American citizens. None of that mattered. After all, they looked like the enemy. Many were of the Buddhist or Shinto faiths, just like the enemy…so they too must have been the enemy, right?

Wrong. But that did not stop the massive trampling of their Constitutional rights.

Although Muslim Americans today have not been incarcerated en masse, there can be no denial of the fact that racism is playing a huge role in how they are being treated, and that treatment is eerily similar to that of Japanese Americans during World War II. To be sure, we are seeing “race prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” that is very, very similar to what Japanese Americans had to endure.

Again, the banana peel incident on Thursday night pales in comparison to all that I have described here. However, the ignorance, and, in some cases, the hate, is still out there, and it is highly reminiscent of the same kind of thinking that has led to some of the most heinous examples of man’s inhumanity to man that must never be repeated ever again.

In short, do not make the mistake of thinking that it’s just a banana peel when it can, instead, represent a turning point, an opportunity to educate others. Let’s use it as a tool to rid ourselves of the kind of ignorance that breeds the kind of thinking that, in all likelihood, led that poor excuse for a hockey fan to throw the banana peel, and could lead to something much, much worse.

As the old saying by George Santayana goes…

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”


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16 Responses to More Than Just A Banana Peel Was Hurled At Philadelphia Flyers Forward Wayne Simmonds

  1. Erika Arnold says:

    Hearing what happened makes me sick to my stomach. I miss Simmonds on the Kings, already, he is such a good hearted, spirited player. I’m happy to hear that it did not faze him and that he scored, anyway… That “fans” intent to screw with him did not work. Keep it up, Simmers.

  2. Steve Newton says:

    Disgusting. Boy, he really “showed” Simmer! … he limited him to only TWO goals.

  3. Frank says:

    Thank you for your great article.

    The only thing I would have to say is about this senentence “my peers in the neighborhood could have only learned that word from their parents”.

    Like you I was unaware that these words were derogatory growing up in the 70’s. I never heard my parents or the neighbors parents say these words. I became aware through the media TV, film and books and if my parents had heard me say anything like that you could be assured that I would have been disciplined.

    It is unfortunate and I do believe that these racial stereotypical jokes and racism will never go away. I believe our society is desensitized to these issues unless it involves someone they know.

    Thank you again for the article as I had forgotten about the camps here in the U.S. and from your perspective growing up.

  4. Pingback: Sweet Tea, Barbecue, and Bodychecks » Blog Archive » The more things change….

  5. DemolitionGirl says:

    I can totally relate to you on this one Gann. Being of Japanese and German descent, I too faced the ignorance of some people while growing up. Always asking where I was from, what race was I, being called derogatory names, etc. Not to mention the fact that I was also adopted (along with my non-biological brother)….which I had known since I was old enough to comprehend that fact, one that my parents never hid from my brother and I.

    Growing up in Torrance, at least I had a wide variety of friends. Not only were my friends the typical white person with blond hair and blue eyes, some consisted of other Japanese, Samoan, Chinese and Korean.

    Most of the time, the slurs came from other kids at school whose parents never taught them right from wrong. I remember my Korean friend being bullied so much that he went home mad and crying.

    I remember my mom telling me stories of growing up in “camps” on Maui. Granted, there were nothing like the internment camps that many had to endure on the mainland, but it still wasn’t an easy place to grow up. They faced lots of racial abuse as well.

    Anyhow, back to the matter at hand. I am just appalled at this whole incident. I can’t believe that someone who is supposed to be a hockey fan would actually treat a player that way.
    Even worse, I can’t believe that NO ONE saw the moron throw the banana peel. Really?? No one??? What a bunch of chickenshits for not fessing up.

    Anyhow, my lunch break is over….

    I can only hope that the idiocy will fade away, but I won’t hold my breath. All I can do is teach my kids right from wrong and make them out to be decent and respectful adults. 1 kid down, 1 to go…..

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      Thanks for your comment. By “camps,” I’m guessing that you’re referring to the camps that each ethnic group lived in near the pineapple or sugar cane fields, right? My mother’s uncle’s family lived in McGerrow Camp, near Pu’unene on Maui.

  6. Sarkis says:

    Maybe we should have camera?????????

  7. Karen Benson says:

    Very insightful and well written article . . . I went on the Flyers website but couldn’t figure out how to send a message to Simmonds . . . of course we miss him and only wish him the best . . . this incident is yet another example of what a decent human being he is

  8. Lucia Calabrese Thurman says:

    I am furious right now. We need to get him back. I’m not going to say anything mean about our neighbors to the north…although I’m thinking it. He’s one of their own and the game was in neutral territory. Hmmm.

    • C. says:

      Careful. First of all, why would you automatically assume one of your “neighbors to the north” was the one to throw it in the first place? Sure, the game was in Canada, but it was between two American teams. Second of all, one person’s horrible and irresponsible actions should not be cause for you to criticize your “neighbors to the north” in a plural sense, even if the individual was Canadian. It was one person. If we’re going to make assumptions here, I think it’s more likely that a tremendous majority of Canadians are as horrified as you are, if not more so.

  9. Alex says:

    article was dramatic, maybe a bit too dramatic,

  10. J Morrison says:

    You paint a picture that all white people are racist and I resent that.

  11. Dominick says:

    Being Samoan has given me a unique perspective in ways when it comes too prejudice. My mothers side of the family came from Orange County, in a prodominantly white well off neighborhood. My fathers side came from a ghetto section of a predominantly black neighborhood in LA. These 2 worlds have always collided throughout my childhood and adult life. Being neither white, or black has given me an insight as to the prejudices from both sides, especially towards each other.

    Some whites that I have grown up with felt perfectly comfortable talking about their prejudices towards blacks in front of me growing up because I’m not black. Some blacks that I have grown up with have been a little more brazen with their prejudices towards whites, but felt perfectly comfortable talking about them in front of me because I’m not white.

    Being in the middle, I have never had those feelings towards either races, but have grown up to see the intolerance happen from both sides.

    Maybe this idiot who threw the banana was just thinking that it would be funny if Simmonds slipped on a banana peel, maybe he thought to himself “I’ll show this little monkey” who knows. Problem is that in the society we live in today, I have a tendency to believe that this idiot intended to make it a racial gesture, and thought he was being funny.

    Even if he didn’t mean it that way, the damage has been done. 1 things for sure. He’s lucky I didn’t catch him doing it.

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