TORONTO — The NHL called it “stupid and ignorant.” Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said he’s “above this sort of stuff.”
A banana was thrown from the stands in London, Ontario, on Thursday night as Simmonds was skating toward Detroit goalie Jordan Pearce during a shootout in an exhibition game. Simmonds is black.
“We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Friday. “The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
Despite the disruption, Simmonds scored in the shootout, but the Red Wings went on to win 4-3.
“It shocked me and I knew I had to keep going and get a shot off,” said Simmonds, who is from Toronto. “It was certainly unusual.”
“I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact I’m black,” he added. “I certainly hope not. When you’re black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it.”
He also scored with less than a minute left in the third period to make the score 3-3. Simmonds said in a statement Friday 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.”
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.”
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.
Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goaltender and current CBC color commentator who is black, had a banana thrown at him during the 2002 playoffs in Montreal while he played for Carolina.
“I’m not surprised,” said Weekes. “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. I understand that firsthand — I’m the first black national broadcaster in NHL history, the first black broadcaster on ‘Hockey Night in Canada.’
“The reality is that there’s still some people that aren’t very comfortable with that. Sometimes I’ll get examples of it on Twitter.”
San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture, who grew up near London, posted: “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.”
In European soccer, black players have had to contend with bananas being thrown at them, although such displays largely have been eradicated from the game in Western Europe. The most recent high-profile instances have come in Russia, involving the Brazilian star Roberto Carlos.
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. This is ninth time we have played here in London and the fans have always been wonderful to us.”
Although London is closer to Detroit, Thursday’s game was officially a home game for the Red Wings. The crowd loudly backed Detroit and was invited on the public address system to consider various ticket packages to Wings’ games.