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Wayne Simmonds to national anthem critics: 'Stop focusing on kneeling,' focus on 'bigger issues'

Wayne Simmonds to national anthem critics: 'Stop focusing on kneeling,' focus on 'bigger issues'

VOORHEES, N.J. —​ Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds spent a good portion of his Wednesday night watching the nonstop CNN coverage regarding race relations in the United States and how the politicization has worked its way into the arena of sports centered around kneeling during the national anthem.

“All anyone wants to talk about right now is why they’re kneeling,” Simmonds said. “And if you’re disrespecting the Army or the national anthem or whatever it might be. People fail to see what the real issue is, or why Colin Kaepernick actually started this protest, and that he actually talked with an armed force member who was actually on CNN last night discussing all of these issues on a panel as to why he used the national anthem as a vehicle to get this out.”

Born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb outside Toronto, Simmonds has spent the past decade living and playing professionally in the United States and has witnessed firsthand the problems that confront the United States of America. 

“The bigger issues are the social inequalities in life,” Simmonds continued. “The things that happen to the black youth — all the shootings and everything that’s gone on in this country for numerous amounts of years.

"Being Canadian, it’s happened to me in Canada, as well. I think it spans outside the U.S., but the issue right now is within the U.S. Obviously we’re trying to find answers, we’re trying to get a conversation sparked. We’re trying to bring everyone together so it’s more united, and not everyone loves you and everyone hates you. At this point, it’s either black and white, but it shouldn’t be black or white. There’s a lot of issues in this country that people aren’t taking into consideration.”

Simmonds has been a victim of racism and the injustices that can take place. During a Flyers' preseason game in London, Ontario in September 2011, a fan tossed a banana his way just prior to his shootout attempt

“It’s an American issue right now," he said. "We’re talking about America. We’re talking about the United States of America. We’re not talking about Canada. I’m a black male living in the United States and for the majority of my time, majority of the last 10 years I’ve lived here, I definitely understand what everyone is protesting about it and I definitely support the cause.”  

Currently, Simmonds is one of 27 black players on an NHL roster. He was asked about the possibility of kneeling or making a political statement after his good friend Joel Ward — who wears No. 42 with the San Jose Sharks to honor Jackie Robinson — said he had considered taking a knee during the national anthem.

Ward announced in a tweet Thursday, that he will not kneel during the anthem "to re-focus" the attention to the real issues, rather than the debate over the act of kneeling.

Simmonds became irritated when the idea of kneeling is brought into question.

“It’s not about the kneeling, but everyone’s going to continue to make it about the kneeling,” Simmonds said, “If you guys want to talk about kneeling, I’m not here to talk about the kneeling. I’m here to talk about the bigger issues. If you want to talk about the bigger issues, don’t ask me about kneeling.

“There’s social inequalities everywhere, but the United States is dealing with that right now. The stance that’s being taken is that it’s not right and something should be done about it. Instead of trying to find something to do about it, everyone’s talking about kneeling. I think that’s sad. I think that everyone should realize what the real issue is and stop focusing on kneeling, and actually talk about the hard questions instead of figuring out who’s going to kneel and who’s not going to kneel.” 

Thursday morning, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, addressed whether he would allow one of his players to make a political statement during the playing of the national anthem.

“I think that’s a bigger conversation," Hakstol said. "I have the utmost respect for Simmer, and certainly for how strong he is within his convictions. I’m going to have that conversation and keep having those conversations with Simmer in private.”

Wednesday, the NHLPA released a statement supporting a player's right to protest, but it didn't specifically cite the national anthem:

“We believe each player may choose to speak out or engage in peaceful protest on matters that are important to him. A player is entitled to his own views on political and social issues, and the right of each player to express such views deserves respect. Should a player decide to make such a peaceful protest, he would of course have the full support of the NHLPA in regard to his right to do so.”

However, the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman have taken a different position. Bettman has attempted to keep politics away from NHL rinks, and during a panel discussion with league commissioners at the Milken Institute panel this past May, Bettman had this to say about anthem protests:

“Respecting the national anthem, I think it’s great for our players to be involved in political and social causes. But I also think that’s not why people come to games to see games. So, I would encourage, and I do encourage our players to do it on their own time. When they’re showing up for work to participate in a game that people are focused on, care about, pay a lot of money to attend, then it should be all about the game. That block of time should be apolitical, and we can use our platforms to demonstrate diversity, inclusiveness, educating communities on good causes whether or not it’s health or the environment. But when the game is being played, it should be about the game because that’s what fans want.”

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

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Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

The NFL's new helmet rule has caused confusion and frustration in the preseason.

Routine tackles in the past have been flagged, and players, media members and fans have voiced their concerns with what exactly will be a legal tackle come the regular season.

Enough with football. Could something like this come to hockey?

If Flyers legend Eric Lindros had his way, it would, and it would go a bit further too.

Lindros said last week at See The Light, a concussion conference at Western University in London, Ontario, that he would be in favor of eliminating body contact altogether.

Via the National Post:

“Let’s get right to it. You talk about me playing. I love hockey, and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny — the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical, and I have just as much fun [these days], but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it. We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”

Lindros clarified his position on Twitter, saying that he believes clean body contact still has a place in professional hockey.

Let’s unpack Lindros’ suggested rule change because there is a lot there for the hockey traditionalists to chew on. I’m sure we’ll see some in the comments section below.

Removing body contact from hockey would be a fundamental adjustment to a game that has a culture of being a tough, physical sport where hockey players notoriously play through injuries.

Hockey players have a reputation of being warriors, and they get celebrated for it. Heck, Ivan Provorov played Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh with a Grade 3 AC separation that requires eight weeks to heal. Wayne Simmonds played the entire year with more injuries than he could remember.

The toughness hockey players display on a nightly basis is admirable, but it’s also sometimes stupid. When it comes to concussions and head injuries, it’s especially dumb.

But removing body contact altogether seems extreme. If contact remains in the sport at higher levels and pro leagues, then proper body contact should be stressed in youth hockey. Perhaps limitations on contact would make sense. It's not a totally crazy idea for young players.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the NHL isn’t doing enough to address it. The league won’t even admit there’s a correlation. That’s a problem.

On Friday, the same day as Lindros’ suggested rule change, the NHLPA contributed a joint donation of $3.125 million toward concussion and brain injury research.

Lindros is one of several former hockey players who have been vocal about concussions and hockey, and understandably so. Concussions are very much part of Lindros’ legacy.

There are other ways to address concussions and the sport. It begins by admitting there is a link between CTE and hockey. The NHL has taken steps in protecting its players, but it can do more.

Headshots are penalized more seriously, but there remains inconsistency in the how NHL’s Department of Player Safety governs. That’s another area that should be addressed: more consistency.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the Olympics, European leagues and international tournaments, penalize all hits to the head. That would be an enormous step.

Let’s not get sidetracked by Lindros’ idea of removing body contact from hockey. Instead, let’s stay on the NHL to continue to do better in protecting its employees from serious brain injuries.

After all, NHL players do have families to go home to after work and lives to live after their playing days are over.

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Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

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