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.”
“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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