Wayne Simmonds remembers the sting of the racist acts against him.
They still sting. They might sting even more now than they did then.
Simmonds, one of the most prominent black players in the NHL, a two-time 30-plus-goal scorer and the 2017 All-Star Game MVP, has dealt with racism throughout his playing career. While with the Flyers during a 2011-12 exhibition game in London, Ontario, Simmonds had a banana peel thrown at him as he made a shootout attempt (he scored, too). During a game in the Czech Extraliga amid the NHL lockout in 2012, Simmonds was the target of racist chants. Those experiences and the current issues of racism and racial injustice in today's society are reasons why Simmonds is standing up and speaking out.
And ready to spark change.
On Monday, Simmonds, along with Chris Stewart, who is in the Flyers' organization, and other pro players Akim Aliu, Evander Kane, Trevor Daley, Matt Dumba and Joel Ward, announced the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an initiative to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey."
"We will strive to be a force for positive change not only within our game of hockey, but also within society," the Hockey Diversity Alliance stated as part of its mission.
Simmonds knows change can come and the keys to accomplishing it: Within the game, black players need the support and action of white players.
I think my message has been more just education," Simmonds said Monday in a video interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark. "Ask one of your minority teammates what they’ve gone through to get to this point. I know when things happened to me, I remember being in London, Ontario, and I had a banana peel thrown at me. It gets kind of lonely when you’re the only black face on the team or minority face on the team.
"To me, it’s important if you’re trying to help the cause, you’ve kind of got to know where we’re coming from and at the same time, not be silent and help us push this thing forward, because at the end of the day, we’re all one. We’re all striving for the same thing, which is equality in our social world. I think that’s the biggest thing — education and kind of just trying to find out something that’s different from what you’re used to.
"We know it’s going to be an uncomfortable situation, conversation, but I think for us to advance these talks, we’re going to have to have tough talks. That’s my biggest message in the education form of it.
The instances in London, Ontario, and the Czech Republic were emotionally painful for Simmonds. Not just the racist acts but also the aftermath, the lack of response.
“It sucks," he said. "Every time it has happened to me, it’s been crazy, to be honest with you. In London, I got a banana thrown at me in the middle of a penalty shot. You kind of don’t know what to think, but at the same time, you go back into the locker room and guys are like, ‘That’s crazy, that’s crazy.’ You’ve got to put on a brave face and no one really knows how you feel on the inside. You can’t find the words sometimes to explain to people how you really feel. And if they’ve never had it happen to them, they don’t know how you feel exactly.
"Going to the one that happened to me in Czech Republic, I think that’s where the ‘silence is violence’ thing is. I’m in Czech Republic, they’re chanting in Czech, I don’t know what they’re saying, and the thing that disturbed me the most about that was that my teammates didn’t even tell me on the team. So I had no clue, the only way I knew was I read it in the paper, I read something on the internet. That’s how I found out. I think to find something out that way when a whole crowd is chanting monkey at you is extremely disturbing. They could have had the decency to tell me.
"I think that’s when the silence part comes in and that completely rubbed me the wrong way. It hurt.”
The 31-year-old Simmonds played for the Devils and Sabres this season. He played parts of eight seasons with the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia means a lot to him.
When asked for his message right now to the people of Philly, Simmonds said:
I think I would just say stand up when something is wrong. You see an injustice happening, don’t sit there and let it happen, say something. Because if you don’t and you let it happen, I’m not going to say you’re just as complicit as the person that’s doing it, but you’re not a part of the solution, you’re definitely a part of the problem. Whether it’s in this or in life, you’ve got to stand up for what you think is right for humanity's sake.
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