Wayne Simmonds pioneers NHL revolution for equality, but we all need to help


In a sport that has historically been whiter than the surface it’s played on, recent comments have garnered more attention than the NHL is used to here in the United States. San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward made headlines earlier this week and late last when he mentioned the thought of kneeling for the national anthem when the Sharks meet the Flyers next week. At the same time, rumors started swirling that Philadelphia Flyers forward and team leader Wayne Simmonds was going to do the same.

During this past week, both have clarified their stance on the issue. Ward issued a lengthy post clarifying his intentions. Ward mentions that “the original message that was trying to be communicated has been lost.” And that, “Where I want everyone to refocus their attention – on moving progress forward. We need to be working on bridging the gap between people of all color, and between law enforcement and minorities.”

Simmonds didn’t necessarily echo the exact sentiment that Joel Ward did, but he did point out that we, as people, should be focused on the bigger picture, as pointed out by John Boruk in his CSNPhilly article.

“All anyone wants to talk about right now is why they’re kneeling and if you’re disrespecting the army or the national anthem or whatever it might be. People fail to see what the real issue is, or why Colin Kaepernick actually started this protest, and that he actually talked with an armed force member who was actually on CNN (last night) discussing all of these issues on a panel as to why he used the national anthem as a vehicle to get this out… The bigger issues are the social inequalities in life. The things that happen to the black youth – all the shootings and everything that’s gone on in this country for numerous amounts of years.”

In another CSN article, this time out of San Jose, Ray Ratto explains Joel Ward’s comments on the kneeling phenomena, and then makes this statement:

“As Ward was the only one of the 30 or so black players in the league who even said he was considering it (Nashville’s P.K. Subban, the league’s most prominent black player, said yesterday that he would not kneel for the anthem), there was every possibility that Ward would have been alone, and in doing so would have taken a similar proportion of abuse and grief to Kaepernick – a hard ask for anyone.”

There is no doubt that this subject is a tough one to grasp, especially from my standpoint. I am white, I am privileged. I have never been pulled over for no reason, or profiled by a police officer. I don’t fully understand the struggle that some black citizens of this country go through. However, I can grasp that this movement is taking the nation by storm, and it is reaching heights in which the originator, Colin Kaepernick may have only dreamed of.

The fact that this protest has gotten to the point that it is affecting the NHL speaks volumes to the type of issue that exists. This isn’t just one player voicing his opinion. This is a full-on revolution. This spurned the mass kneeling scene that we all saw during week 3 of the NFL season. The Golden State Warriors have declined the invite to the White House, which was later rescinded only AFTER the invite had originally been declined, very professional. There is no doubt in my mind that once the NBA starts back up, the players will be kneeling or raising their fists in unity during and or after the national anthem is played. Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics proved that the movement has reached Major League Baseball.

Right there, you have three major sporting leagues in the United States that have had some sort of protest. What happened in the NFL during week 3 was unprecedented. Nothing like that has ever happened, and many people were outraged by the kneeling and the displays of protest, or solidarity depending on who you ask, that were on display before the games.

Obviously the regular season hasn’t started yet, but is this an issue that will end up leaking into the NHL, a long time predominately white sport? Of course, you have to think that it will because of how it has taken on a life of it’s own in the NFL. Players still continue to hold up their fists in protest, kneel for the anthem, even link arms with their entire respective team. It has turned into more of a protest against Donald Trump and his remarks than what it was initially intended to be.

What many athletes are keen to forgetting is that when Kaepernick initially took that knee during the national anthem a year ago, his reasoning is completely different than the reasoning behind it now. Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL.com:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. – To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Wayne Simmonds was clearly frustrated this past week when asked about the impending season opener against fellow African American Joel Ward. Many rumors had been swirling, and now laid to rest, about the both of them taking a knee for the national anthem prior to opening faceoff. Simmonds and Ward have both now decided against the kneeling, and Simmonds was quoted in Boruk’s article, saying,

“I think it’s sad. I think that everyone should realize what the real issue is and stop focusing on kneeling, and actually talk about the hard questions instead of figuring out who’s going to kneel and who’s not going to kneel.”

What has happened recently that has shifted the focus of these protests is comments made by Donald Trump regarding the national anthem protests. We all know how much people across all four major sports leagues like Mr. Trump. It is no surprise that the focus has shifted since Trump’s comments, which were:

Along with the original statement that started it all, Trump stated that if players were caught “disrespecting the flag” that owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

It goes without saying, that after statements like that, I’m sure people will lose focus of the main goal at hand, and try and “stick it” to the president for what some people are saying as being insensitive to the movement itself. However, therein lies the problem.

Colin Kaepernick used him kneeling as a vehicle to get his message across, that he would not stand for social injustice, for black people dying without reason, for cops abusing their powers. He was not going to let those things slide, he was going to do something about it. People are very quick to mention that it is completely disrespectful to kneel for the national anthem, but isn’t that the very reason we have military members fighting overseas? Those people are over there protecting our right to free speech, protest, and every other right we as Americans have.

Many will disagree, and that’s just fine. We, as Americans, are allowed to disagree with one another, with something our president says. We are also allowed to voice those displeasures freely. We can bitch and moan about this law and that law to no end, and do you want to know why we can do that? It’s because there are brave men and women overseas making sure that we keep those rights that we are all accustomed to.

Free speech is an essential right that we Americans utilize every single day. People are allowed to say things like “Donald Trump is an asshole,” and that “Colin Kaepernick is stupid and should stand up and honor our country.” IT’S THEIR RIGHT TO SAY THOSE THINGS! It’s when actions are put to those words that is when things get hairy.

Kaepernick doing what he did is a form of silent protest. Silent protests are peaceful, and they are one hundred percent protected under the constitution. When things happen, like when someone threw a banana on the ice at Wayne Simmonds in 2011 during a preseason game, that isn’t protected. That’s completely unnecessary, and honestly, a huge dick move. When someone in the crowd decides to yell out at Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and call him by a racial slur in Boston, that’s a dick move as well. Both incidents isolated, but regardless, both incidents are totally unnecessary in this day in age.

It is encouraging that theses incidents aren’t happening very often, but they also aren’t being documented often. Who knows what is being said and not commented on. Players constantly have to deal with the fans on their backs about a missed catch or a bad shot. I know how upset fans get when things don’t go their way, I’m a fan and when my team doesn’t win, my poor fiancé gets the brunt of my displeasure. Needless to say, I’ll either change or she will get used to it.

When Kaepernick first took that knee, and started his protest, he envisioned change. He envisioned a world where black men weren’t murdered and left to die in the streets, and cops weren’t taking advantage of their power. Social injustices were gone, color wasn’t seen, and people were people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc… Kaepernick’s vision is what we all should want. However sad it may be, it likely will never stop. People are bad. People are good. 200 years from now, if we could look down on earth and see how people treated each other and compare it to how we treat each other right now, things won’t change.

Yes, acceptance is being preached more now than it ever has been before. Hate is being practiced now more so than years prior as well. Things won’t change, and it’s a very sad, sad fact. Jackie Robinson faced an immense amount of hatred and look what he did. He revolutionized not just the baseball world, but the sporting world as well. He gave way to people like Willie O’Ree, who was the first black NHL player in the league’s history. People often referred to him as the Jackie Robinson of the NHL, but he knew that he never faced the adversity that Robinson had when breaking through to the MLB.

Now, we have upwards of 30 black NHL players currently playing, and two to three times more that have played throughout the league’s history. A majority of the NBA and NFL are black as well. United States athletics is absolutely dominated by black athletes. These people are just as susceptible to racial profiling and social injustices as Joe Schmoe walking down the street in any one of our hometowns.

Call it me being a homer, but the most alarming thing about this whole situation is that it has reached the NHL. The players that make up the NHL are, for the most part, Canadian or Russian. You can probably be put on the spot to name all the black players in the NHL, and you’d be able to do it. So far, P.K. Subban, Joel Ward, and Wayne Simmonds all have said they will not kneel for the anthem on opening night.

“I’m a black male living in the United States and for the majority of my time, majority of the last 10 years I’ve lived here, I definitely understand what everyone is protesting about it and I definitely support the cause.”

Simmonds is onboard. Simmonds, as stated before and once again here, agrees with the idea that change needs to happen. However, he has decided against taking the knee, and so has Ward and Subban as well.

Now here is where it gets difficult, because I cannot speak for Simmonds, and nor will I ever tell you, the reader, that I can. However, it is pretty self-explanatory. Simmonds has stated that he thinks that everyone who is still protesting has lost view on why the protests started in the first place. He has done his homework, he knows why Kaepernick started this. He knows what the motive behind the protest originally was.

It’s a shame to see that the people who are carrying on this protest have lost it’s original meaning. It was supposed to be used as a vehicle to get people talking about changing the status quo, changing the fact that young black men are dying at the hands of police officers that are abusing their powers. What it has evolved to now is completely different from what it started as. Now, it’s all about letting President Trump know that we heard his comments on the kneeling situation. We heard how displeased he was with it. Am I wrong to call out the President of the United States for being, well, WRONG?

He wants to go on and on about people disrespecting the flag, but the reason that flag stands tall in this country is because there are men and women who risk their lives day in and day out to fight to preserve our rights at citizens. They don’t fight for a flag, they fight for a nation. They fight to make sure that when they get home safe and sound, they have the same rights that they did before they left. Last time I checked, everyone in the United States of America is entitled to peacefully protest and free speech.

You have to ask what this world has come to when a writer for a Philadelphia Sports website decides to tackle the giant task of linking the kneeling revolution to the NHL, but it isn’t hard to understand. We all have an opinion on this. We are all entitled to that opinion. However, regardless of what others say, there are rights and wrongs here. This isn’t an instance of grey areas and no clear cut solutions. This is an instance of people wanting to be treated like such. Like Simmonds described how Kaepernick used the kneeling as a vehicle to get a bigger message across, I want to use this article as a vehicle as well. Let’s get this discussion going because quite frankly, there is no reason for people to be treated any less than the rest of us. The fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, you, me, your parents, kids, friends, family, and so on… We are all people. We all live in this country. Why are we criticizing someone who is trying to make it a better place?


Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports