A hockey fan threw a banana at the Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds in an apparent racist taunt as the winger prepared for a shootout.
Simmonds scored on the attempt, which came Thursday night in a pre-season game against the Detroit Red Wings before a neutral crowd in London, Ontario. After the game, Simmonds took the high road when asked about the disturbing incident.
"I don't know if it was because I'm black or not," said Simmonds, who is from Ontario. "Because if it was, that's just somebody being ignorant. When you're black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it."
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A teammate who didn't want to be named told the Philadelphia Daily News: "I would have went and kicked that fan's (butt) myself. That's just not right."
It may not have been the first time a fan tried to taunt Simmonds with a banana, according to NBC Sports. A source told the outlet that someone tried to hit Simmonds with one late in the third period when he scored a 3-3 goal to send the contest to overtime.
Simmonds said he was rattled by the fruit toss, but that he managed to keep his focus and score the Flyers’ only goal in the shootout.
“It shocked me and knew I had to keep going and get a shot off,” he said. “It was certainly unusual.”
Simmonds, 23, who is entering his fourth season in the league, was acquired by the Flyers in a June trade that sent former captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings.
After the game, Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Flyers and manages the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario, where the game was played, released a statement.
"It appeared as though a fan threw an object onto the ice during the shootout," said the statement, from Comcast-Spectacor president and COO Peter Luukko. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to identify the individual. We certainly don't condone such a foolish act (like this) as a player could potentially be seriously injured. This is the ninth time we have played here in London and the fans have always been wonderful to us. The Flyers consider this our 'home away from home' and that's because this city, the fans and this spectacular arena have been so supportive of the Philadelphia Flyers."
African-Americans are rare in the National Hockey League, and have faced racism in the past. Former Carolina Hurricanes goalie Kevin Weekes had a banana thrown at him during a 2002 series against the Montreal Canadiens.
After the game, Weekes, now an NHL Network analyst, tweeted his disgust about the incident.
"I'm extremely disappointed with what happened to Wayne Simmonds tonight in London Ont. We've taken HUGE steps to grow the game of hockey, as I speak Willie O'Ree and I are in D.C. attending the Black Congressional Caucus on behalf of the NHL & ironically this takes place :( There's NO place for this in sports since sport connects us not divides us."