A preseason NHL hockey game on Sept. 22 was marred by an apparent racial incident when an unknown fan threw a banana at a Black player during a shootout attempt.
According to multiple news sources, the incident took place during a tie-breaking shootout late in a preseason game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings held in London, Ontario.
As Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds skated toward the goal to take the first shot in the shootout, a banana was flung into his path. He did not pause and scored the goal, though the Flyers would lose the shootout, and the game.
Simmonds may have also been targeted earlier in the game when he scored a goal in the third period to tie the game 3-3. NBC Sports reported that a source said someone attempted to hit Simmonds with a banana at that time, as well.
According to ESPN, arena security personnel were unable to detain the fan who threw the banana.
“I’ve never had a banana thrown at me before. That’s a first for me,” Simmonds told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “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.”
The incident has drawn harsh reactions from around the hockey world, and a $500 reward from one sports agency for the identity of the fan has apparently been offered.
“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. “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 Black former NHL goalie who had a banana thrown at him during a 2002 Stanley Cup playoff game in Montreal, Canada, was attending the Black Congressional Caucus in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the NHL when he heard of the incident.
“I’m not surprised,” Weekes told ESPN. “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.”