NEW YORK — National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday that the tossing of a banana at a black player during a pre-season exhibition game Thursday night in Canada was “stupid and ignorant”.
The incident came during a game-ending shootout at London, Ontario, when Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, who is black, was skating toward Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jordan Pearce.
Simmonds, who had scored in the final minute of regulation time to level the game at 3-3, scored in the shootout as well but the Red Wings won the shootout to take the game 4-3.
“We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game,” Bettman said. “The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
After the match, Simmonds, a Canadian, said he was stunned to see the banana sail over the protective glass and onto the ice with only himself and the opposing goalie on the ice.
“It shocked me and I knew I had to keep going and get a shot off,” Simmonds said. “It was certainly unusual.
“I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact I’m black. I certainly hope not. When you’re black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it.”
Joe Fontana, the mayor of London, apologized to Simmonds and the Flyers on behalf of the Canadian city.
“It was a stupid and mindless act by a single individual,” Fontana said. “However, it reflects badly on our entire community. London is a diverse and welcoming city and we like it that way.”
There were 7,427 spectators at the 9,100-seat home rink of a Canadian junior-league team. The facility is operated by a subsidiary of the Flyers owners, Comcast-Spectacor, whose president, Peter Luukko, was outraged as well.
“We certainly don’t condone such a foolish act,” Luukko said. “A player could potentially be seriously injured.”
Former NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes, a Canadian television hockey commentator who is black, had a banana thrown at him in Montreal during the 2002 playoffs while playing for the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I’m not surprised,” Weekes said. “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.”
There are traditions of tossing items onto the ice in the NHL. Detroit fans are known for hurling octopi on the ice during big games. One fan tossed a crab on the ice in a pre-season NHL game this week at Baltimore. Florida Panthers fans hurled plastic rats on the ice in celebration years ago.
Some fans toss caps on the ice when a player scores his third goal to complete a ‘hat trick.’
Football has suffered notable banana-tossing incidents earlier this year.
Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos having had a fan offer him a banana at one match and having had another banana tossed at him in Russian matches for Anzhi Makhachkala.
Brazilian teen star Neymar had a banana thrown at him during his team’s 2-0 friendly victory over Scotland in London last March. Neymar said this past Monday he would stay with Santos of Brazil, snubbing interest from Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
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