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.”

Flyers' Game 3 in 2010 Stanley Cup Final was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

Flyers' Game 3 in 2010 Stanley Cup Final was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

In the spring of 1997, Eric Lindros and company were steamrolled. Swept by the Detroit Red Wings for the first of three Stanley Cup titles in six years for the Motor City.

Fast forward 13 years. The Flyers are back in the Finals facing the same fate after losing the first two games in Chicago.

This Flyers team already completed one of the most improbable comebacks the NHL had ever seen. Down 3-0 to the Bruins in the series and then in Game 7, they shocked the world. The odds of this team completing the historic feat twice in the span of a month? Not great. That made Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final so important. If they are going to win the Cup, they have to win this game.

The night featured everything you love about playoff hockey. A game associated with the bitterness of winter played on a warm evening in June. The arena maxed out with twenty thousand people wearing orange, holding their breath with every scoring chance, every save, then erupting in unison when the goal horn ripped through your ear drums.

60 minutes would not be enough. Five minutes into overtime the fans jumped to their feet, releasing a burst of energy that could be felt down Broad Street. It would turn out to be a practice run for the euphoria to come. Replays of the puck behind goaltender Corey Crawford, sliding perfectly along the goal line, confirmed our worst fears. It’s not over.

The swing of emotions is what makes overtime playoff hockey so unique. The suddenness of it all is unmatched. Which is why none of us were expecting, less than one minute later, the building would shake. No need for a review. No need to regain our composure. Claude Giroux had won Game 3.

It was one of those moments when strangers were now family. Section 212 became my new neighborhood. I looked around to take in the moment, seeing smiles from ear to ear and even a few jubilant tears.

One week later, tears of a different kind were shed after Patrick Kane celebrated by himself on the same sheet of ice. Another Finals loss jumpstarted another dynasty with the Blackhawks claiming three Cups in six years. The hurt of that series loss was equalled only by the exhilaration of Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. The best game I ever saw live.

Flyers sign prospect Wade Allison to entry-level contract

Flyers sign prospect Wade Allison to entry-level contract

There are no more worries about the Flyers' college prospects.

Four days after Tanner Laczynski inked a deal with the organization, the Flyers signed Wade Allison to his two-year entry-level contract Friday.

Both college seniors had rights to the Flyers that were set to expire Aug. 15. Now the 2016 draft picks are officially in the fold for the future.

Allison, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound winger out of Western Michigan, will bring a craftiness around the net and powerful shot to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

“We are very happy to have Wade under contract,” Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in a statement released by the team. “He possesses a great package of size, speed and skill, and we strongly believe he’ll be an NHL power forward moving forward.”

The second-round selection has battled injuries during his time with the Broncos, including a torn ACL his sophomore year. That season, Allison was on a torrid pace with 15 goals and 15 assists in 22 games before suffering the injury. As a senior in 2019-20, Allison put up 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) and a plus-11 mark in 26 games.

Allison will turn 23 years old in October and his experience could help him climb quickly. Health will be vital, as well. There's a lot to like, though, with Allison's overall ability.

In the last 18 days, the Flyers have signed prospects Allison, Laczynski and Wyatte Wylie to entry-level deals.

Another college player to keep an eye on is Wyatt Kalynuk, who is coming off his junior season at Wisconsin. The defenseman can return to Madison for his senior year or turn pro in 2020-21 as his rights don't expire until the summer of 2021.

Meanwhile, the rights to prospects Linus Hogberg and David Bernhardt, two Swedish blueliners in the Flyers' system, expire June 1.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers