Racism – or storm in a tea cup?

Wayne Simmonds picked up speed, skating in on a shootout attempt against Jordan Pearce when a banana flew by and landed close to his path.

Simmonds did score on Detroit’s Jordan Pearce, but his Flyers lost the exhibition game in London, Ont., nevertheless.

As it was, until that moment, your typical pre-season NHL game, both teams testing rookies and line combinations for the moment real shooting starts in less than a fortnight. The banana changed the picture. Everybody’s up in arms, the league issues a strongly worded statement under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s signature, the teams join the angry chorus, a huge number of players run to their electronic devices so fans see them tweeting their indignation, and Wayne Simmonds himself declines to comment on the incident.

So far as everybody is concerned, throwing a banana at a player whose colour of skin is dark constitutes pure and unadulterated racism.

A somewhat premature outcry, don’t you think?

A devil’s advocate would ask a simple question: how do you know the person who threw the banana was racist? Do you know who it was, in the first place? Have you spoken to that person yet?

Phrased differently: are you not putting the cart before the horse?

Some of us, for example, might remember old movies, you know, the strong silent type of movies, black-and-white, too, where throwing banana peels in the path of someone pursuing somebody else used to bring the pursuer to a spectacular fall, the more spectacular, the louder the explosion of laughter in the audience. So, what if the unknown perpetrator just wanted young Mr. Simmonds to slip and not score in his shootout attempt? Ridiculous, granted. The ice is slippery enough as it is. But still: who has proof that it was a racist slur rather than an idiotic attempt to influence the outcome of the game?

Young Mr. Simmonds, unlike the general media and many of his NHL colleagues and bosses, seems to be wise enough to decide the incident is nothing he would care to talk, let alone think, about.

Something else should have happened: the referee should have stopped young Mr. Simmonds, call it a game, and award the win to the visiting team. The home team didn’t do its job. It is supposed, among many other things, to make sure there’s enough security in the arena and no debris should be flying to the ice (with the exception of hats when someone scores his third goal in that particular game).

Of course, it’s the same company that owns the Flyers (Comcast) that also owns the London, Ont., arena. That would mean the game would go to the Wings, as it has, anyhow. But still: the time to react to unacceptable debris on the ice would have been then, and not the flood of stories decrying racism that would appear later on.

By the way, a devil’s advocate’s next question would be: are you (meaning those who automatically assume the banana-throwing incident had racist connotations) not racist yourselves? Why are you so fast jumping to conclusions? Just because they are politically correct?

Yes, yes, yes, there is this question: who in their right mind would be bringing bananas to a hockey game? But how do we know it’s not part of the perpetrator’s diet, as prescribed by her or his physician?

The incident was (and is) deplorable, no doubt about that.

But the lynching of a perpetrator whom we don’t know, whom we haven’t asked at least about what he was thinking when he threw the banana, is deplorable, too.

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