Friday, September 23, 2011

On Wayne Simmonds, Bananas, Racism, And Racism In Sports

There are numerous times this year I have thought about writing this piece.  The most prominent being when the anti-Domonic Brown furor was alive and well.  Each time, though, I decided against it.  It is a subject that not everyone wants to talk about.  It is a subject that people do not want to address.  People do not want to read about racism.  They think "playing the race card," is just a sad statement people make because they do not have another retort.  Honestly, I wish this were the case.  But racism is alive and well in 2011.  It's horrifying to think about, but it's true.

Flyers fans who paid a single shred of attention to tonight's pre-season game against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ontario tonight know what happened.  But for those that don't, as Wayne Simmonds was taking a penalty shot when one of the most despicable fan actions in the history a sports.  As he was taking the penalty, a fan from the stands launched a banana in his direction.  The implication of this, of course, is obvious.  The person throwing the banana sees the black person as a monkey, which is about a degrading a sentiment as you could possibly have against someone.  Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in hockey.  In 2002, black goaltender Kevin Weekes also had a banana thrown in his direction.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that reaches far and wide and society.  This is not something limited to hockey, or even sports, although sports will be the main focus of my discussion here.

A History Of Racism

Think about people you know in the United States are currently 47 years old or older.  All of these people have one thing in common.  They were born before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, meaning they were born in a time where racial discrimination was the norm.  Their parents, products of the system.  The society they grew up in and the society their parents told them was a society where blacks were discriminated against and segregation was the norm.  This segregation and this racism dates all the way back to the discovering of America, and maybe even more horrifyingly so, to the founding fathers.  While Thomas Jefferson was preaching liberty, he himself owned slaves.

While you may be asking yourself how Thomas Jefferson could be such a blatant hypocrite, the answer he was a product of his time.  Blacks were not seen as people, but rather as property.  When the Constitution was first ratified, they were counted as three-fifths of a person.  The only reason they even got that far is because the white population in southern states was not as big and the southern states wanted blacks to count so they could get a larger representation in the House of Representatives.  Of course, the beacon of freedom that was the northern states felt they should not be counted at all.  The compromise they settled on was blacks would count as three-fifths.

Even though blacks were freed after the Civil War, they still struggled with civil rights and equal treatment.  Eventually, the Jim Crow Laws and Plessy v. Ferguson came along, which decreed that segregation was legal as long as the facilities were "separate, but equal."  Of course, these facilities were not equal in practicality and worse more, this fostered an environment of discrimination and racism.  This discrimination was only finally outlawed in 1964.  47 years ago.

You can't erase hundreds of years of bitter feelings, degradation, and beliefs that people of a different skin color are inferior, in 47 years.  As a nation of Americans, we like to think that we are past these issues of race.  They may be subconscious thoughts, or conscious actions of unfathomably hate like tonight in London, Ontario, but racism exists in our society.  It exists in Canada.  It exists in the United States of America.  It exists in Pennsylvania.  It exists in my family.  At large family dinners, I'll hear my maternal grandfather call the current president of the United States the N-word without thinking anything of it.  We are not past racism.  Not even close.

Twitter Responds.....And Goes Too Far

The pre-season hockey game tonight between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings played in London, Ontario, Canada was not televised.  However, thanks to Twitter, the news of the banana incident quickly spread.  Most were quick to denounce these horrible actions of outright bigotry, but some unbelievably supported it, including largely anonymous before tonight tweeter Amber Alexander (@Amb_Alex).  She has since deleted her tweet, however, thanks to the internet, the quote is still floating out there.  Her exact quote was as follows, "whoever threw the banana at Simmonds.... you are officially loved by me."  After getting RT'd by Adam of The Pens Blog (@TPBadam) and my Twitter friend Shawn (@9inOrange), the hate toward young Amber exploded.  You can do the Twitter search of @Amb_Alex on your own time and see this for yourself.  Upon realizing the chaos she caused, she apologized repeatedly, preaching ignorance of the connotations of a black person and a banana.

But that's the problem.  I do not care whether she knew exactly what she was talking about and was blatantly racist, and only backtracked with the apology upon seeing the hate coming her way, or if she truly was ignorant.  It does not matter, for in this case, ignorance is no less the crime.  To not understand something and to support it without knowing is just as bad as supporting it and knowing.  To not understand this nation's past and the connotations that tossing a banana at a black person might have, is just as bad.  To support an unfathomably act without knowing what you are supporting is ignorance, and to have ignorance of this nation's past and what all this means almost blows one's mind away.

My hope is that she learned her lesson and that she will be a better person for it.  Some replied to her to "kill herself," and that is not going to solve anything.  The object here should not be to convince people to take their lives but to educate the ignorant in hopes of making them more understanding members of society.  It is an idealist's view to be sure, but maybe she really was ignorant and maybe young Amber will take her experience tonight and do something good with it.  That would be the best case scenario.  We all make mistakes, but to learn from them and to change is what defines a person's true character.

Why Philadelphia Should Be Paying Special Attention Tonight

I mentioned earlier I nearly wrote a racism in sports post after the Domonic Brown hate reached its height earlier this year.  For those not aware, Domonic Brown is a highly touted black prospect in the Phillies farm system who in the eyes of many, has not lived up to expectations.  Never mind that he is only 24 years old and while some baseball players like Mike Stanton are making noise at 21-years old, others like Chase Utley did not start playing in the majors until he was 25.

After the Phillies mishandled his call-up in 2010 leading to him sitting on the bench and in the minds of many performing poorly while serving as a bench player for the end of the 2010 season and negative perceptions forming, Domonic Brown sustained an injury to his hamate bone in Spring Training.  According to ESPN's Keith Law, it can take up to 12 to 18 months before a full recovery is made.  While Dom Brown was cleared to play after several weeks, the effects of the injury are what last for a year or more.  And quite unfortunately, the big effect of a hamate injury in the context of baseball is how it zaps the victim of his power.

Dom Brown was called up to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 20, 2011 after Shane Victorino was put on the DL.  Despite improving his MLB on-base percentage from .257 in 2010 to .335 in 2011 and putting up a batting average of .246, a number that hovers around league average, Dom Brown has been absolutely lambasted by members of the media, commenters, and the always infamous WIP/97.5 The Fanatic hosts and callers.  Why?  "Lack of hustle," "laziness," "an unfixable swing," "lolly-gagging," and being "terrible defensively."

Unfortunately, a lot of these criticisms are born out of racism.  They may not be at the forefront of consciousness like the guy who threw the banana about Wayne Simmonds, but calling Dom Brown, a black baseball player, "lazy," is certainly racially tinged.  When Dom Brown "dogged it" on a groundball, he got blasted.  When Cliff Lee later "dogged it" on a ground ball, it was seen by and large by most people as a humorous event.  When Dom Brown misplayed a flyball, he got booed unmercifully, when Hunter Pence slipped and fell on his ass causing a fly ball that would have otherwise been easily caught to fall in, again, most people laughed and while some were a little frustrated, the vitriol of hate was no where near the level it was when Domonic Brown made a mistake.

Remember when Chase Utley first starting playing with the Phillies?  He was a little rough around the edges defensively like Domonic Brown is now.  Chase Utley is now widely considered one of, if not the best defensive second basemen in all of baseball.  The same could hold true for Domonic Brown in the future.  People need not be so quick to place judgment on someone, especially when he has only played 90 games in Major League baseball, or the equivalent of just over a half of a season.  While he has struggled with left field and hitting since being demoted to Lehigh Valley after the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence, Dom Brown's on-base percentage at LHV this year still ended up at .391 and there is still reason to believe he will be more than just an effective outfielder in baseball, especially once he fully has his power back from the hamate bone injury.

Racism in baseball does not extend just to Domonic Brown.  Think about all the "gritty" and "scrappy" baseball players you know?  David Eckstein, Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Hunter Pence, etc.  Now think about how many times you have heard someone call a black baseball player "gritty" or "scrappy."  Writing over at Big Black Kids, The Good Phight blogger FuquaManuel illustrated a similar point using Jon Heyman's views on David Eckstein and Luis Castillo.  It's not just Domonic Brown that faces unfair criticism because of his skin color.

Why bring up Domonic Brown's plight now and interject baseball into this discussion?  Because unfortunately, some of the people who decry the blatant racism against Wayne Simmonds may also be the same people who think "Dom Brown is lazy."  It is easy for some to stand tall against outward racism while harboring racist feelings toward others.  That is not to say all who stand with Wayne Simmonds are secret racists, or all who criticize Brown have secret, subconscious racist feelings (though dismissing Dom Brown as lazy, a bum, and a bust at this stage is at best a stupid opinion to have), but we may not necessarily be aware that what we think or how we feel can be interpreted as racism.  A common stereotype of black people is laziness.  This is not some sort of little known, hidden fact.  That's not to say no black people ever do anything lazily, but when someone calls a black person lazy despite all objective evidence and reports from people familiar with the person, it triggers the racism alarm.  When people call a black person lazy for one thing, but then laugh it off when a white person commits a similar act is racism, whether it be conscious or subconscious.

Hope For the Future?

Through all the hate, there may be some good to come out of this.  Numerous Flyers have shown their support for Simmonds, hockey players left and right ranging from Paul Bissonette to Logan Couture to the aforementioned Kevin Weekes have voiced support for Wayne Simmonds on Twitter.  My Twitter friend @ItsAFez66 has set up a FanPost at Broad Street Hockey where people can voice their support for Wayne Simmonds, and the support has been overwhelmingly positive not just from Flyers fans but from hockey fans everywhere.  That so many people recognize and decry such an evil act and praise a man for not letting the action phase him and scoring the goal anyway is without a doubt a positive step.

What that man tonight did at the John Labatt Center in London, Ontario, Canada was done out of pure malice and evil, but maybe there is some good that can come out of this.  Maybe those that were once ignorant can finally learn what they needed to realize so long ago.  Whether white or black, as human beings, we are all the same.  Quite literally, the only difference between a white person and a black person is skin color.  It seems a concept that is so simple that having to say it is nothing more than stating the painfully obvious, but the words and actions of several people, including the person who threw the banana tonight in London, Ontario in a hockey game between a Philadelphia team and a Detroit team indicate otherwise.

Even if they did not have the experience tonight of Amber Alexander tonight, maybe others who were once ignorant can learn from this.  And they can start up the conversation that has long been buried by those who are naive enough to believe there is no more racism in the United States and North America in 2011.  Maybe the headlines made tonight can help some people finally learn about stereotypes, the plight of black people throughout American history, the connotations their words have, and to truly understand the problems we as a country have faced for our entire history.  They can in turn teach others, and little by little, we can truly work on eradicating racism from our society.  Enough is enough.  People should not have to worry about being degraded and unfairly looked down upon over something they have no control over.  It will take awhile, maybe even as long as it took for the United States of America to end discrimination of blacks, but it is a dream I hope will one day become a reality.


  1. I think the first half of this post is well said on multiple levels. It truly is terrible what Wayne Simmonds experienced tonight. My sympathies go out to him tonight. I hope the constables in London, Ontario find a way to capture the dude who chucked the banana.

    I also feel it is equally important for people to have historical background to provide context for today's events. Thomas Jefferson was a great man, but not only did he hold slaves, he banged one of them. He was incredibly hypocritical, but it does not diminish his contributions to the founding of the USA. No man is perfect. Our society is not perfect. It probably never will be, but we must keep working towards that goal.

    However, I am going to have to disagree with you on your Dom Brown comments. Is racism driving those comments about him and his play? Possibly. It's far more likely those comments have to do with inflated expectations for him and the general impatience people have at all levels of society today. Yes, he needs time to develop, and he needs to play to get that development done. But, Dom Brown has run into a classic "win now" system, with a manager, who to me, doesn't really trust rookies. I'm just don't agree that a blanket charge of racism should be made against holders of those opinions.

    In the end, nice job Justin.

  2. Not all of the Dom Brown criticisms are racist in nature, but words like "lazy" and "lolly-gagger" in this context are more than a little racially-tinted.

  3. Good read. I am the guy you posted under at BSH and told to read your article. I agree that the Dom Brown stuff had racial undertones but where I disagree with you is using such a broad brush with it. Not everyone is racist. I believe you look at a person as an idividual not as a color or for that matter their sexual preference. Until we rid ourselves of ALL racism we will not rise above any racism. Also for just a second lets think outside the box, what if this young girl Amber grew up never thinking about or being around racism. She would be ignorant to the fact of what happened tonight was a racist act. I know its a long shot but if we want this for future generations we are going to have to live with the fact that they will be ignorant to these things. Furthermore, to these people who are tweeting her to kill herself well that is worse than what took place tonight in London, Ontario. You should be ashamed of your actions because you are just as ignorant as she is.

  4. A nice post on the overall, but I'll play Devil's Advocate a bit as well as voice my own take. Starting from the top:

    When it comes to confronting racism, you're correct in that some people don't want to address it, but I'll also point out that some people don't want to address it as it's become such a constant refrain, we're almost numb to it. While not every issue, perhaps not even a majority, is just someone playing a race card, it happens often enough that people have to give pause to ask whether a situation is or not.

    The problem, however, is that when racism is brought up, tolerance does not go the reverse way. If a person tries to interject and say: "Before we condemn either side, let's sit down, examine the event objectively, and try to determine intent", I can guarantee the outcry will be "RACIST!". I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a bigot in my life, simply because my reaction was: "I'm withholding judgement until I get more info."

    I think it actually speaks to a pretty significant problem in our society today, which is our tendency to react emotionally to something because "I have strong beliefs!" It's not an excuse to be an asshole about it.

    Let's take the recent, racially charged case of the individual executed, Troy Davis. I saw supports of his flopping to the ground, apparently needing help to even stand, wailing in emotional agony, calling out to deities/religious figures in their anguish. I saw proponents of the execution hurling invectives about the accused, openly and violently wishing not only death, but torture and harm upon him.

    Now, I'm not going to actually debate sides here, because to be frank I was disgusted with both. The latter was fraught with both racism and also a blind faith in the fact that he was convicted meaning he was guilty. The former group was also, however, fraught with racism in the belief that "It's not possible he got a fair trial". No presentation of evidence, no presentation of facts or arguments. Simply put, "We know how it is!"

    Both sides ran me off from caring about the issue very quickly, even though it's one I generally feel strongly on, because I can't be bothered to debate with either group. Neither will listen to logic or reason, both will "Wear their hearts on their sleeve!" proudly, not realizing that without control such a thing is dangerous.

    Perhaps I'm getting off on a tangent, so to loop this back in, one of the reasons that racism isn't discussed, along with those who simply deny it, is that those of us who do have opinions built of reason, logic and evidence are often bullied out of the debate by those who take the harsher stances.

    Regarding Amber, well... Let's be frank here: No knowing that connotation in this day and age is idiotic. However, it presents to me an interesting concept: When WILL that be acceptable to not know?

    Eventually, for racism to truly disappear, it has to be a non-issue. It will become a forgotten thing of the past. However, in order for that to happen we do have to allow for cultural variations that mean we'll be offended from time to time. As the SMBC comic once stated, very eloquently I felt, "I'm offended" does not mean "It's offensive". You taking offense doesn't mean that the term/joke/reference is inherently so.

    (Break 1)

  5. As an example, and I highly recommend the documentary "Indoctrinate U" where i picked this up as an interesting watch, there was a student on a campus who was arranging a black speaker at his political club because he felt the man was interesting and would bring a good counterpoint. The gent had written a book called "It's Okay to Leave the Plantation" which discusses racism and co-dependency. It's a title that obviously is meant to charge the reader and provoke a reaction, but hey, that's how products sell.

    The student put up flyers in the multicultural center of the school, where such events are posted, advertising the author coming into the campus. The backlash was swift and terrible, and the student damn near lost his ability to pursue his degree.

    The reason I bring this up is to say, along with the "race card" item earlier, this is part of the reason racism is alive. As someone under 47 but still growing up in a racially charged city, I can say without doubt that some modern racism is fed by these issues. You have young kids who are growing up in a world of much greater equality than existed, but, due to the advocacy of some groups, they're being both A) Blamed and B) Expected to pay for the sins of their ancestors.

    Some people react to that by realizing that it's not necessarily the everyday person doing this, just some mouthy group trying to keep in the media spotlight and shrug it off. Others, however, feel abused by references to the past of this country and it being weighed on them because, ironically, they're the same color as those who committed the crimes of the past. This feeds a separation that eventually turns into loathing. It begins as a minor hatred, and can boil out of control.

    To truly end racism, we need to take an objective stance. We need to weed out obvious racism (Such as the actions of he-of-the-nanner-throwing) but we also can't let the topic become so prevalent in our minds that people who aren't racists or are good people who are borderline due to upbringing, feel suffocated by the focus on it.

    As a fan of anecdotes, I'll give you another story. I worked for many years in a restaurant, and it was in an area that's smack between North Philly and a suburban community. As such, our staff was pretty diverse, with one exception: I couldn't stand the majority of the workers, regardless of race, as the majority of them I felt were whiny, over-entitled peons who didn't feel hard work had anything to do with success. The difference was, I was putting my backside on the line when I questioned a minority worker and called them, you guessed it, lazy.

    I admit to being a harsh person in my expectations of others, because I expect them to have my work ethic, and my parents beat a rather extreme work ethic into me. I take no credit, it's their upbringing. But I would get absolutely incensed by a worker, for example, getting to a table 10+ minutes after I sat them (They are now, by the way, fuming) because they were on their cell phone. When confronted, they were indignant. Customers can wait, their personal life is more important.

    o I called them out, because if that customer never comes back? I lost money, they lost money, the manager/owner/franchise lost money... and so did the servers who DID bust their butts day in and day out. However, there was a fear of formally reprimanding someone for laziness because of the racial implications, regardless of whether it was true.

    So I had to sit there, sometimes biting my tounge, doing everything I could to save the relationship our chain had with the customer. What then makes it worse is that, while they all whined about what they were "entitled" to, race was one of the rants. "I can't get a better job because of racism." "If I wasn't a minority, I'd be out of this job by now." "Yeah, it's easy to get a job in this country... if you're the right color."

    (Break 2)

  6. Meanwhile, I'm thinking "Do you think *I* want to be arm deep in food waste and garbage some days? Do you think this is MY dream job? You don't have a job because no one sane would hire you."

    But I not only had to deal with their whining, I had to take the insinuations that my race means I have it easy and that what I've earned, I was given. Thankfully, I've grown up in an environment where I learned, very quickly, that anyone will step on you, even those of your own race, so I don't hold it against minorities. I view it as a wider, cultural issue of entitlement, not an issue based on genetics or skin color.

    But I can't, publicly and openly, express that opinion. Why? Because in an instant, at least some folks would call me a racist. And that would ruin my career and my life.

    We will only defeat racism when we, in my opinion, stop with the "We are all one" mentality. We're not all one race, we're all no race. We're all individuals competing and judging each other on individual merits and flaws, successes and failures.

    I apologize for the length, but, yeah, very much so couldn't sleep.

  7. Thank you very much for that, VorAbaddon. I understand what you are saying and don't entirely disagree with it. Everybody is different in their own individual way, but at the same time, we must not use skin to judge people, put them down, etc.

  8. Amber Alexander and the citizens of London, Ontario (especially the kook who threw the banana on the ice) do not deserve the "Stay Classy" line.

  9. Per her Twitter page, Amber is actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan residing in Mississippi.

  10. Justin F. said...
    Per her Twitter page, Amber is actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan residing in Mississippi.

    Well, then we shouldn't hold it against her at all, really. I mean if she's a Pens fan her parents obviously did a terrible job instilling any sense of good judgement.

  11. I myself thought that by 2011 racism would no longer exist, but obvious that is not true. I think it was smart of Simmonds to want to not comment on the issue any longer and rather focus on playing hockey.


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