By John Matisz
Following a banana tossing with racist overtones at the John Labatt Centre’s (JLC) annual National Hockey League (NHL) exhibition game last Thursday night (Sept. 22), the Forest City is left to pick up the pieces.
After witnesses came forward over the weekend (Sept. 24-25), the London Police Service is launching an investigation into the incident involving black Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and an airborne banana.
The information they have received is currently being assessed for reliability. Constable Dennis Rivest told London Community News the charge, if any, will derive from the Trespass to Property Act.
“Well, it’s looking like if there’s going to be a charge that’s probably where it will fall (under),” Rivest said.
Rivest also noted the JLC will be brought into the fold after the police’s investigation is over.
“We’ll do our investigation and then when that’s finished certainly we’ll liase with the John Labatt Centre,” Rivest said.
General manager of the JLC, Brian Ohl, is encouraging the public to pass along any information by calling 519-667-5700.
“We will not tolerate this type of conduct at the John Labatt Centre and if we are successful in catching the culprit, we will persecute the individual to the fullest extent of the law,” Ohl added through the JLC’s official Facebook account.
At city hall, Mayor Joe Fontana issued a statement to the public, which included an apology to Simmonds and the Flyers organization, as well as a few thoughts on the matter.
“It was a stupid and mindless act by a single individual, however, it reflects badly on our entire community,” Fontana said in the statement.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman echoed Fontana’s sentiments through his own statement from the league’s office.
“We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game,” he said in the statement. “The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goaltender, who now works for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, used Twitter to relay his thoughts to the hockey community.
“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:(,” (sic) he tweeted.
London native and San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture expressed himself through social media as well.
“Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports or life,” he tweeted around midnight.
Following the Red Wings’ 4-3 shootout victory in front of 7,427 fans at the JLC, one of Simmonds’ teammates, Sean Couturier, downplayed the incident.
“Not much (I can say about that), it’s a bad fan, I guess,” said the 18-year-old. “I mean, we got the goal so that’s what’s important.”
Some Flyers fans, on the other hand, didn’t sugarcoat their feeling about the perceived racist act. Many chimed off through PhillySportsForums.com.
“Cowardice (bleep)… And to anyone who saw him do it and didn’t saying anything (bleep) YOU TOO,” said one forum poster.
Another shined light on the possibility of the banana episode being pre-meditated.
“What’s messed up is that it happened at a neutral site,” the fan wrote. “Obviously, someone smuggled a banana into the arena with the sole purpose of waiting until the right moment to throw it at the only black player in the building.”
An act of racism or not, the incident overshadowed an entertaining contest between a pair of top-calibre NHL franchises and effectively put London, Ontario on the map for all the wrong reasons.