September 23, 2011
Neufeld unsettled by racist actBanana incident 'discouraging'
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Ray Neufeld played pro hockey in a less civilized time, yet he never had to deal with anything like Wayne Simmonds experienced on Thursday night.
Someone threw a banana on the ice when Simmonds, a black forward with the Philadelphia Flyers, was taking part in the shootout of an NHL exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ont.
“It’s discouraging,” said Neufeld, a Winkler native who played 11 NHL seasons including a stint with the Jets between 1985 and 1989. “In this day and age, with all the things that are going on in the sporting world, there’s never really been a lot of discrimination.
“It’s unfortunate something like that would happen. It’s hard to believe, actually.”
Remarkably, Neufeld never had a problem during his career. One ‘silly’ thing occurred in 1979, when he played for the AHL’s Springfield Indians. They were playing in New Haven, Conn., and some of the fans had a basketball in the stands during the warmup. They yelled that Neufeld should be up there with them and not on the ice.
“We all had a chuckle about it,” Neufeld said.
The Jets have five black players among the 56 who are still in training camp, and four of them suited up for the Atlanta Thrashers last season. Defenceman Johnny Oduya, who hails from Sweden, said more than a few people in Georgia were surprised to learn they played hockey.
“Obviously we raised some eyebrows with the four black guys there last year,” Oduya said. “There were some interviews and some questioning. Guys were like, ‘You guys play hockey?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, we do.’ ”
Oduya condemned Thursday’s incident, but he said he wouldn’t let it affect him if he was the target.
“It’s unfortunate and something you don’t want to see happen, but for me, personally, it’s something that wouldn’t bother me that much,” he said. “I more feel sad for the guy who actually threw it than anything else.”
Jets forward Evander Kane believes the person who threw the banana is a coward.
“I’m sure that fan wouldn’t throw it at him if he was looking him right in the eye, because he’d probably be pretty scared and wouldn’t want to do too much about it,” Kane said.
“You don’t really let those kind of things bother you. It’s just a classless act by that fan and just something that shouldn’t happen. But things like that happen still in the world, and it’s just unfortunate.”
Neufeld, who is assistant GM and assistant coach of the MJHL’s Winnipeg Blues, believes the black players who crack the Jets lineup won’t have to worry about racist incidents like Thursday night’s.
“Winnipeg’s a great city. There’s certainly none of that going on,” Neufeld said. “They’ll be received well. They’re hockey players, they’re playing with passion, the game they love.
“Fans in Winnipeg will appreciate what they bring to the game, not what their skin colour is.”
— with files from Paul Friesen