Silence can be racism

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds celebrates his goal against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre...

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds celebrates his goal against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Sep. 20, 2011. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - The slap of a piece of yellow fruit hitting the John Labatt Centre ice surface was a wake-up slap in the face for a naive city and its populace.

To borrow a phrase from Cyrus Grissom in the movie Con Air, the person who threw a banana in front of black NHL player Wayne Simmonds Thursday is "somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that accumulates at the corner of your mouth when you're really thirsty."

He or she is a loser, a racist, an embarrassment to humanity and whatever advancement we think we've made.

Simmonds's squad, the Philadelphia Flyers, played a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings in London. As Simmonds was taking his turn during the shootout, a banana flew from the upper reaches of the JLC and landed in front of him, skidding away.

Simmonds scored on his shot.

The reaction at the JLC was muted. Not everyone recognized what had been thrown. And if they did, the implication didn't sink in. Or, maybe they simply couldn't believe anyone would do what they did.

No matter.

By Friday, London, the banana and the black player became the focus of virtually every TV newscast, newspaper and radio story locally, nationally and, in many cases, internationally.

If people weren't aware of what the incident meant, they became aware quickly.

It wasn't as if Simmonds was unknown to London. He'd played at the JLC numerous times as a member of the Owen Sound Attack.

There was a time when people who weren't white were controlled in different ways: segregation, no vote, police dogs, fire hoses, men in white sheets burning crosses.

But racism is far from dead. Quiet racism that's taken over: the job you don't get, the apartment that's suddenly been rented, the icy reception when you walk into a store.

Or maybe it's the banana thrown by some redneck who can't stand the thought some black dude is more successful than them.

Simmonds acted with class and dignity.

The banana is a symbol of what still exists. But because racism doesn't always show up as a bright, yellow fruit thrown in front of thousands of people, many prefer to believe it's either not there or not as destructive.

Kathy Crawford of West Lorne attended the game. She was appalled by what happened, but the banana wasn't the only incident.

"There was also a fellow behind me making racist remarks, saying that Wayne should be a basketball player instead of an NHL player," she wrote. "The person went for a walk when I mentioned that my nephew is black."

Funny how as of Friday no one had come forward to say they saw who threw the banana.

No one came forward to say they chased the coward down the hall or reported it to an usher or security.

Ignore racism and watch it blossom.

What happened at the JLC Thursday is common in Europe, especially at soccer matches.

For years it was accepted as something that happened at a soccer match. Now, the winner in the fight against racism in soccer is undecided.

London, Ont. is in the same boat.

It makes me sad to know London now will be known as the place where a banana was thrown in front of a black hockey player.

It's a hellish lesson, one that teaches us there's no such thing as being only an interested observer when racism is involved.

OTHER RACIAL INCIDENTS

2010: Lewis Hamilton, a black Formula One driver and world champion, was greeted by fans wearing black-painted faces and chanting racist slogans after a race in Barcelona.

2005: Then-Barcelona forward Samuel Eto'o is taunted at a soccer match where fans make monkey chants and throw peanuts on the pitch. The referee doesn't mention the incidents in his match report.

2005: Ivory Coast defender Marc Zoro, playing in Serie A, is abused by Inter Milan soccer fans with monkey chants. He tries to stop the match by walking off with the ball.

2006: Roberto Calderoli, the former minister of reform and a member of the right-wing Northern League party, said after the Italians won the World Cup against France that Italy defeated a French team made up of "negroes, communists and moslems." Italian football matches are often used as a platform for far-right fans to express racist sentiments.

2008: Olympique Marseille players Ronald Zubar, Taye Taiwo and Mamadou Niang, who are black, face abuse by Russian fans of Zenit St. Petersburg. The fans throw bananas on the pitch and make monkey chants.

2008: Tottenham supporters abuse black Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell. Insults include the image of Campbell hanging from a tree.


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