Banana thrown at Wayne Simmonds

Updated: September 23, 2011, 10:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LONDON, Ontario -- Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, who is black, had a banana thrown at him from the stands Thursday night during a 4-3 exhibition shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

As Simmonds took the first shot in the shootout, a banana came flying into his path as he skated in on Detroit goalie Jordan Pearce.

"I don't know if it had anything to do with the fact I'm black," Simmonds, a 23-year-old Toronto native, said Thursday. "I certainly hope not. When you're black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it."

Simmonds I guess it's something I obviously have to deal with -- being a black player playing a predominantly white sport. 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.

-- Flyers' Wayne Simmonds

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman condemned the act. In a statement from New York on Friday, he said, "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."

Simmonds acknowledged the banana rattled him, and his only thought was to get off a shot -- which went in for the Flyers' only score in the shootout.

He also had scored with less than a minute left in the third period to tie the game at 3.

"It shocked me and (I) knew I had to keep going and get a shot off," he said. "It was certainly unusual."

Simmonds said Friday that he wants to concentrate strictly on the game.

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

Simmonds made the trip with the Flyers to Detroit, but sat out Philadelphia's 3-1 win over the Red Wings on Friday night, as both teams tried to use players who hadn't been in the lineup the previous day. Simmonds was in press row toward the end of the game, and although he declined further comment, he did send a few autograph-seeking fans home happy.

"I'm black, and I'm a real big hockey fan," said 29-year-old Latoya Pugh, who was at the game with her kids. "It's a sport you want to get more Americans into."

Pugh and her kids approached Simmonds for an autograph during the third period. She was well aware of what happened the previous night.

"It's hard when you're black and you love the game," Pugh said. "You want to support the people, support the players, the teams, but you have people like that, who are ignorant."

The incident triggered reaction ranging from disgust to disappointment.

On his Twitter account, former NHL goaltender and current CBC commentator Kevin Weekes, who is black, posted, "For those that asked: 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."

"I'm not surprised," said Weekes, who had a banana thrown at him during the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs in Montreal when he played for Carolina. "We have some people that still have their heads in the sand and some people that don't necessarily want to evolve and aren't necessarily all that comfortable with the fact that the game is evolving."

Couture Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened tonight to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports, or life.

-- Post on Logan Couture's Twitter page

Maxime Talbot, one of Simmonds' Flyers teammates, called the incident "sad" and "embarrassing," but cautioned against labeling the entire crowd based on one person's actions.

"We all know it's an isolated incident. It's one person that obviously wanted attention or I don't know what ... I think we're all united here," Talbot said.

"It's not like there's a problem with racism in our league. It's one person in the crowd of 6,000 ... you can't take that as general 'People in London are racist,' " Talbot said. "That's not how you should look at it. It's one person."

The Flyers' Scott Hartnell says he's hopeful what happened to Simmonds was an isolated incident.

"You never want to see those kinds of actions," Hartnell said. "He took it in stride. We hopefully won't ever see that again. Simmer's a character guy, and he just laughed it off."

"For him, he's not too worried about it," added Brayden Schenn, another Flyers teammate. "For us, we're supporting him. It's just shocking that something like that would happen."

London Mayor Joe Fontana apologized to Simmonds and the Flyers on Friday on behalf of his city.

"It was a stupid and mindless act by a single individual," he said in a statement. "However, it reflects badly on our entire community. London is a diverse and welcoming city and we like it that way."

Eustace King of 02 Sports Agency, who represents Simmonds, told The Canadian Press he believes the NHL should draft a code of conduct for fans that could be printed on the back of tickets.

"The game doesn't necessarily have very many racial problems -- I don't want to say there are none, but it's very limited," he said. "But I think the challenges become with people in society, there's a great problem that's out there that is still being addressed. Just because we're playing sports doesn't mean it's going to change."

King, who is black, once played NCAA hockey. He also represents black players Chris Stewart and Anthony Stewart. King said this is a distraction Simmonds doesn't need right now.

"He's in the middle of training camp, he was traded to a new team and all he's trying to do is showcase his ability for his new management," King said. "This is just another thing that I will say other players don't necessarily have to think about. When Wayne goes on the ice, he's got this in the back of his head, that he's got to go out and perform but he's going to be questioned about something that has nothing to do with him."

Logan Couture, a forward for the San Jose Sharks, grew up near London. "Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened tonight to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports, or life," Couture posted on Twitter.

The rare NHL game at the 9,090-capacity John Labatt Centre drew a crowd of 7,427. The arena is operated by Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of the Flyers' parent company Comcast-Spectacor.

"Unfortunately, we weren't able to identify the individual," said Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor.

"We certainly don't condone such a foolish act (like this) as a player could potentially be seriously injured," he said in a statement. "This is the ninth time we have played here in London and the fans have always been wonderful to us."

Norton Sports, a California sports management group that does not manage Simmonds, offered a $500 reward for the identity of the banana thrower. The Twitter offer quickly drew others promising to add to the reward. As of Friday morning, Simmonds was a trending topic on the social network.

Information from ESPN NHL Insider Craig Custance and The Associated Press was used in this report.