Banana scandal sparks calls for inclusive NHL

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banana scandal sparks calls for inclusive NHL

TORONTO — The hockey world needs to take a "zero tolerance" stance on racism and make itself more inclusive for ethnic minorities if the game wants to survive, sports experts said Friday — as the uproar continued a day after a banana peel was thrown at a black player during an NHL exhibition game.

TECH NEWS Banana scandal sparks calls for inclusive NHL"The sport has been comfortable in its whiteness for a long time," said Peter Donnelly, the director for the Centre for Sports Policy Studies at the University of Toronto. "It's probably at this point now that it's starting to deal with it."
The banana peel apparently was aimed at Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds during a shootout in a pre-season National Hockey League game Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ont.

Donnelly, who also teaches sociology and sports, said the "goonish" behaviour of this one fan should be a wake-up call to the NHL to "ramp up" recruitment campaigns and get more visible minorities on the ice and behind the bench.

"Canada isn't going to get any less diverse," he said. "If they want to sustain the game, they have to reach out to the diversity."

And if the number of parents signing their children up for hockey continues to drop due to rising costs and growing concerns over violence, Donnelly said, it's even more important for the league to set an example to fans who can turn even more people away from the sport.

"Spectator sports permit all kinds of unruly behaviour by fans. Often, they encourage it," he said. "It's a nasty, nasty thing."

Other sports have taken strong stances against unruly fans. Donnelly points out that some soccer teams in Europe face multiple game suspensions for rowdy behaviour. In other instances, all fans can be banned for the actions of some, forcing teams to play in empty stadiums.

Recently, Turkey's soccer association came up with rules allowing only women and children under 12 to attend games involving teams sanctioned for rioting.
In Thursday's incident, according to one report, bananas were actually thrown at Simmonds twice, but only one reached the ice during the shootout.

"I guess it's something I obviously have to deal with, being a black player playing a predominantly white sport," he told reporters following the game. "I've grown a lot playing in this league and throughout my whole life. I'm not going to dwell on that. It's over with now."

Despite the racially-charged moment, Simmonds scored on his shootout attempt, one of two goals he netted during the game. The Red Wings won the game, 4-3.

London Mayor Joe Fontana later cautioned the public not to judge the southwestern Ontario city by the "unacceptable and despicable" actions of one "idiot."

The spectator who threw the banana peel has yet to be identified. On Twitter, Norton Sports, a Chicago-based athletics management company, offered a $500 reward for the identity of the suspect.
Fontana, too, urged the suspect to come forward.
"I want the person responsible to have a bit of class, come forward and say they made a mistake," he said. "We want to make sure we find them and get to the bottom of this because London is a great hockey city proud of our diversity."
But retired Montreal Canadiens forward Georges Laraque wants the league to make an example of the city to deter similar incidents.

He called it an "honour" for London to be able to host an exhibition game, and said the city should be prohibited from hosting these games until the suspect comes forward.

"This person should be banned from any games. There should be some ground rules set here," said Laraque, who had his contract bought out last year.

"(This guy) probably loves the fact that he's getting all this attention and nobody knows who he is."

Laraque said that, throughout his career, he's had to endure the "N" word a number of times, but admitted that the NHL is making a big effort in "selling the game" to minorities. Despite this, he said, the game needs more black role models.

Hockey Canada said it also believes these incidents are "few and far between" but agree that the controversial topic should be talked about more.

"It's not something we can control," said Glen McCurdie, vice-president of membership services for the Calgary-based organization. "But certainly education about it not being tolerated is key."
Hockey Canada also agreed that the "face of hockey" is changing in the country.
"We need to ensure our programs are welcoming of all Canadians. For us to continue to grow the game it's not a step we should take but a step we have to take," said McCurdie.

But retired sports psychologist Paul Dennis, who worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs for more than two decades, said that in the end, even with strides in recruitment, success in hockey is about skill and not race.

"The bottom line to recruiting hockey players is about skill, ability and contribution to the team," he said. "The NHL does not look at one's ethnicity, that's for sure . . . and it's not because of any bias or prejudice, they just want the best players that are available."

Here is how people around the league are reacting to the banana incident:

"We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game. The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario."
— Gary Bettman, National Hockey League commissioner.

"It was unfortunate that this incident happened but I am above this sort of stuff. This is something that is out of my control. Moving forward, this incident is something I will no longer comment on so I can just focus on playing hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers."
— Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers forward.

"It only takes one idiot to do something that distasteful. I think it's really unfortunate. I commend Wayne Simmonds for the way he handled it. He's certainly far more responsible and mature than the person who did it."
— Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks general manager.

"For some idiot to do something like that is just out of this league. Maybe he's encountered a few things throughout his career, just like I have. But that's just going to an extreme."

On London: "My hometown. Very disappointing. But at the same time, I was telling everyone how there were a lot of out-of-town fans at the game, so you can't exactly be pointing fingers at the people in the London community for disrespecting someone like that. You never really know who actually (does) it. But very uncharacteristic, like I said, and I don't see it happening again."
— London native Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs player.

"It's obviously not right. Society's a lot different today. People are a lot more open-minded about other races or creeds. The fact of the matter is it's not right."
— Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach.

"I'm extremely disappointed with what happened to Wayne Simmonds. There's NO place for this in sports since sport connects us not divides us."
— A Twitter posting from Kevin Weekes, a former Carolina Hurricanes goalie who also had a banana thrown at him during a game almost 10 years ago.

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