Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons, at the time of this writing still gainfully employed by the Postmedia company, has committed an unpardonable sin. He did what columnists all over the world are supposed to do. He was controversial, almost to the point of provocative.
He wrote to be read.
Simmons’s regular Sunday contribution to the world of entertainment (professional sports, that is) includes a section named Hear and There.
Simmons hinted that it’s not necessarily one’s skin colour (he avoided gender and every other hot issue of the day) that defines one’s success in whatever endeavour one decides to pursue.
To drive the point home, Simmons compared two careers: Akim Aliu’s and Wayne Simmonds’s. The two are professional hockey players, both of them are black, and each has enjoyed a different level of success.
By the numbers: taken 56th overall in the 2007 NHL draft, Aliu would end up playing just seven NHL games.
Skating for the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and now, the last two seasons, Toronto Maple Leafs, Simmonds has played significant minutes in 1,019 NHL games.
Aliu’s greatest achievement: he made coach Bill Peters persona non grata in North American hockey, getting him fired from a Calgary Flames head coaching job. Aliu accused Peters of racist behaviour. The sin had happened a decade before Aliu called Peters out.
Aliu, a Nigerian-born Canadian-Ukrainian former professional ice hockey player, last played for HC Litvínov in the Czech Extraliga (2019-2020). His professional career spanned AHL and ECHL teams in the Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organisations before a trade sent him to the Calgary Flames.
Aliu’s crowning achievement: encouraged by NHL’s (and Flames’) reaction to his accusations, he founded a group named Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA).
How dared he?
Simmons’s sin? The next 93 words: “No one wants to say this because of the politically correct police and all, but those who coached Akim Aliu must cringe every time they see him in a news report or a commercial talking about what’s wrong with hockey. Like he would know. By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was colour-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?”
That was it.
Having checked with several personal friends within management ranks of HC Litvínov, their replies – independent of one another – were unpleasantly simple and straightforward: we’ve wolfed down a snake on this one (a Czech idiom loosely translated as we’ve fallen for it).
Neither Simmonds nor Aliu were amused.
Simmonds took to Twitter to offer his reply (the quote below leaves all misspellings and unusual turns of phrase untouched):
Just a quick msg to the hockey world. I usually don’t have time for this but tonight I do! I really don’t appreciate what your trying to do (Steve Simmons) your article was asinine and in no way reflects the real plight that my self, Akim and other players of colour go through.
You Are Minimizing the pain and suffering and dismissing the actual fight that we as a ppl actually have to endure just to even be accepted in the game of hockey at a lower level nvm the professional ranks. DO NOT EVER use my name or any other player of colour’s name to try and make your point. We will no longer sit by quietly as our characters are assassinated Steve! This will only make us stronger and speak out against ppl of your nature! If you were trying to be cool or funny, you missed your mark. YOUVE BEEN WARNED!!! Ps this is me being nice!
Aliu, (@Dreamer_Aliu78) added his five cents’ worth under a headline saying that hate will never win:
Obviously being in this space there are times that people say negative things about you but you find a way to let it go. But this one got me good. This one got me at my core. … I’ve seen Steve talk negatively about me for some time now and the funny thing is I’ve never spoken to him or met him in my life … people like Steve are what’s wrong with society.
You’re a racist and you’re an arrogant, and you have zero credibility and respect from even your own peers in the media space and athletes alike. And if the Toronto Sun had any integrity whatsoever, you will never write another column again.
End of quote.
Last season’s Stanley Cup champion Nazem Kadri, now of the Calgary Flames, tried to play it somewhat safer, avoiding inflammatory language as much as he could. Kadri tried to build his point around the known rule that columnists write to be read, meaning, their copy has to be around the limits of the barely acceptable.
This is NOT to debate the quality of Simmons’s writing. Suffice it to say that Steve Simmons is the longest-serving member of the Toronto chapter of the Pro Hockey Writers’ Association. To add to his suffering, he has covered the Leafs since 1980.
This entire tropical storm the size of a hurricane inside a teapot is about identity politics.
This tool, used to divide humanity under the motto “Divide and rule,” isn’t new. After all, it even has a Latin name (Divide et impera, and it had existed even before Rome was built: according to historians, the motto started with Philip II of Macedon, who ruled his kingdom from 359 BC until his death in 336 BC.
It’s more interesting to note the hysteria in both Simmonds’s and Aliu’s outbursts: Simmonds bans Simmons from ever using his name (or that of any other player of un-white skin colour). Aliu demands that Toronto Sun fire Simmons on the spot. He’s got some experience in this respect, having achieved a similar goal with Bill Peters in 2019.
The only difference: Peters admitted his guilt, while Simmons expressed an opinion based on undisputable facts.
Yes, there are only a few black hockey players around, at all levels, not only in the penthouse named the NHL.
Has anyone asked whether there are enough black athletes to justify this discrepancy? What if these kids were more interested in baseball, basketball, football (any kind: North American and the rest of the world, a.k.a. soccer)? Or track-and-field, even?
And how about the percentage of white kids, all eager to earn their keep playing hockey, and most of them having to settle down as avid hockey fans, white privilege or not?
And how about the demand made by Aliu that Simmons be fired? Cancel culture or cancel culture?
Akim Aliu, now too old to play in a professional hockey league, should perhaps learn and earn a job more useful than releasing such amounts of hot air into the atmosphere, dividing people by their skin colour and not by their abilities.
Wayne Simmonds would (and should) spend his time much better trying to help his team make it beyond the first round of this season’s Stanley Cup, rather than making irresponsible statements.
In any case, the fact this story has ever erupted is a sign of the tragic state our society has found itself. Constant complaints about the fact that life isn’t a rose garden could be funny (to a degree) as a form of strange folklore. As it is, they are taken seriously, and the pattern is threatening. Gone is the era of “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The saying has been attributed (wrongly, it seems) to 18th century French philosopher François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire.
The attribution matters little, the content matters a lot.
What we’ve been witnessing is constant (and unforgivable) erosion of democratic rights and freedoms. Neither Akim Aliu nor Wayne Simmonds would have been able to accuse others of such (non-existent) heinous crimes if those rights and freedoms didn’t exist.
Democracy has a terrible time defending herself: in most cases, she would have to resort to methods that don’t meet her basic standards.
Should she? Yes, in fact, she has to, it says in this corner.
And, meanwhile, Steve Simmons should simply ignore his politically correct, woke and cancel-culture vulture-like attackers, and go on writing, pissing them all off while he’s at it.