On Wayne Simmonds and the issue of race in hockey

Wayne Simmonds 2014 Playoffs

Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography

Wayne Simmonds was acquired by the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the infamous Mike Richards trade back in the summer of 2011. At the time, the big fish for the Flyers was forward Brayden Schenn. Schenn was considered one of the top prospects in hockey. Some people went as far as to call him a “younger Mike Richards”.

 

Wayne Simmonds was there to sweeten the pot for the Flyers. He was a big, physical player that would work hard along the boards and fight guys when necessary. The kind of player that Philadelphia loves. No one thought that, a few years later, he would lead the team in goals. His highest point total with the Los Angeles Kings was 40. He simply wasn't used in that much of an offensive role.

 

Simmonds is one of the most beloved Flyers on this current team. It seems like he has a million nicknames, but typically goes by “Wayne Train” or “Simmer.” He was a force on the power play this season, scoring 15 goals with the man advantage. He also reached offensive career highs across the board, posting 29 goals and 31 assists for 60 points.

 

Unfortunately, the issue of race keeps hounding Simmonds. He scored his first playoff hat trick last night against the New York Rangers. It was a tremendous performance. The crowd went nuts, throwing 639 hats onto the ice (according to CSN’s Sarah Baicker). Most of the tweets were joyous, celebrating this achievement. However, some people felt the need to dub this a “black trick,” even using a hashtag.

 

This isn’t clever, this isn’t funny, this isn’t celebrating Simmonds’ in-game achievement. It’s a hat trick. Wayne Simmonds is a hockey player and he scored a hat trick. You don’t need to bring his race into it. You don’t need to point it out. Wayne Simmonds is a hockey player, and a damn good one at that.

 

Simmonds Hat Trick

Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography

 

Simmonds has also been asked about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in recent days. Sterling was caught on tape chiding his girlfriend for taking photos with black people and bringing them to Clippers game. He was issued a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as a result of these comments.

 

The issue of relevance is a tricky one here. Simmonds is a black athlete, and answered the questions posed to him. But should he even be getting these questions? He’s in the middle of a playoff series with a division rival. One would think that hockey questions would be the focus of any interview with Simmonds. But it turns back to race.

 

It’s a difficult issue without a clear answer. Hockey is dealing with it more each year, as increased numbers of black players come into the league and social media comments are displayed more prominently. You see the reactions that Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien get out in Winnipeg. You see memes go up about the NHL vs the NBA and toughness and work ethic and thuggery. It’s more jumbled and messy than ever. These issues should and need to be discussed, but we can’t let them be the key defining factor for these players. They deserve better than that.

Wayne Simmonds should be known primarily as a very good hockey player. For the most part, that’s the case in Philadelphia. But, every now and then, these issues rear their ugly heads. You can be sitting at a bar in a Wayne Simmonds shirt, just enjoying a Flyers game, and it just takes one person to ruin your night with an ugly remark. “Oh, is that guy your favorite player? Your guy?” The tone is aggressive, far too aggressive for questioning your choice of hockey shirt. There’s only one way to respond to a question like this. Hell yes he is, he’s Wayne Simmonds.

 

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