The NHL regular season hasn’t even begun and the league is already being forced to address serious discrimination concerns following last week’s banana peel throwing incident in an exhibition game in London, Ontario.
Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was skating in for a penalty shot when a fan tossed a banana peel at him. The act was — justifiably — perceived as a racist gesture and it resonated with the small group of black players in the overwhelmingly white NHL.
Now Simmonds is again in the spotlight after a penalty-filled matchup with the rival New York Rangers on Monday night. After a game that featured 77 combined penalty minutes, outspoken Rangers agitator Sean Avery — who jawed back and forth with Simmonds throughout the game — insinuated Simmonds called him a homophobic slur.
Avery said he had “no idea” why Simmonds made the comment and Simmonds did not deny doing it.
“Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there,” he said, without providing details. “I don’t recall everything that I did say to him, but he said to me some things I didn’t like. And maybe I said some things that he didn’t like.
“I can’t recall every single word I said.”
A video replay showed Simmonds using the epithet.
“To be here now having to answer the questions about what he did is disappointing for me,” Avery said. “I’m disappointed for him.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella backed his player and said he would let the NHL handle the situation. The NHL is still working to address the banana peel throwing incident from last week, but Sunday the Toronto Sun reported fans are taking the matter into their own hands on Twitter. According to the report, at least two users are offering bounties in exchange for the identity of the guilty fan.
Following the game last Thursday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called the act “obviously stupid and ignorant” but said it was “in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
Former NHL goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, who is black, called on the league to crack down on racism across the sport.
“Whether it’s a lifetime ban, or a two year ban ... the National Hockey League needs to implement some very harsh punishment for these people. Because , ultimately, who does it reflect back on? It reflects back on our league and our game. It looks terrible.”
Sean Avery stepped forward as a gay right advocate in May, saying in a video: “I’m Sean Avery, and I’m a New Yorker for marriage equality. I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated, and that applies to marriage.”
In April, the NBA fined Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant $100,000 for uttering a homophobic slur to a referee during a game.