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Why Wayne Simmonds might protest inequality during the national anthem

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Listen to Wayne Simmonds.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

On Wednesday at training camp, Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds talked about the ongoing protest movement in sports. His comments were lengthy, thoughtful, and they simply hit the nail on the head.

Via the Inquirer, Simmonds was first asked about news that Joel Ward of the San Jose Sharks -- who is from the same Ontario hometown as Simmonds — has not ruled out his own protest when the regular season kicks off (against the Flyers) next week. Here are the bulk of his comments:

“I definitely back Wardo. I know Wardo very well. What’s going on now is a shame. I definitely back his statements. It doesn’t mean I’m going to kneel, and it doesn’t mean I’m not going to kneel.”

“Everybody is relating to politics, but for the people who are doing the kneeling and protesting peacefully, I think it has nothing to do with how (other) people are taking it,” he said. “Some people are saying it’s a disrespect to the flag, a disrespect to the Army. That’s not the thought process behind it; it’s just the vehicle that’s being used to create a conversation about social inequality.”

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“Trump kind of threw sports into the middle of it,” Simmonds said. “Some try to use sports as an escape from politics, but we’re role models, too, and everybody’s trying to do the right thing. Like I said, it’s not to be disrespectful to the flag, it’s not to be disrespectful to the anthem. People are taking it out of context and saying it’s disrespectful to the men and women of the Armed Forces, which it’s definitely no slight on them because without them, we would have no freedom. They fight for our First Amendment and it all goes hand and hand.”

And another quote via the Courier-Post:

“It’s extremely hard to talk about because politics come into play now. It’s crazy to me. I’m black and I grew up in Canada. I’ve experienced a lot of racism in my lifetime, especially playing hockey. I’ve had numerous amounts of things happen to me when I was a child through being an adult.

Simmonds didn’t talk in specifics about about his own personal dealings with racism on Wednesday, but at least part of his experience is well-documented. At least twice since he first joined the Flyers, Simmonds has been victim of hateful acts simply due to the color of his skin.

During a 2011 preseason game in London, Ont., a man was arrested for throwing a banana at Simmonds during the game. (He was not charged with a hate crime due to a legal technicality.) Roughly a year later, during the 2013 lockout while Simmonds was playing in the Czech Republic, fans hurled racist insults at him during a game.

A common refrain from white sports fans both this week and in the year since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during an NFL game has been that they just don’t think these protests should happen during sporting events, or during the national anthem. “I’m just here for the game” or “don’t disrespect the flag.”

But Simmonds’ counter to that should be something that those people listen to: “It’s just the vehicle that’s being used to create a conversation about social inequality,” Simmonds said. Protest doesn’t work in the shadows. It works when you make comfortable people confront the issue. That’s what Kaepernick set out to do, and ... well, it’s become a national conversation, so it at least has achieved that.

Simmonds’ personal experience certainly informs his opinion here, and it shows why we can’t just “stick to sports” with this stuff.

You simply cannot say something like Sam Carchidi says here when, as Wayne Simmonds and so many other black athletes’ experience has proven, a sporting event cannot be divorced from our political reality.

As a white man, I can go to an Eagles game or a Flyers game — or get pulled over by a cop — and do so knowing that I will be safe. Wayne Simmonds, the reigning NHL All-Star MVP, doesn’t have that luxury. He knows he could be attacked, verbally or physically, because of his race. This could happen any time he steps on the ice, or opens his mouth, or drives down the Schuylkill Expressway, or walks down the street.

People like me, Carchidi, or any other white person in the crowd don’t know what that feels like. We can’t. We have that privilege. That’s certainly true for the three hours with a beer in our hand during a sporting event. Simmonds and other people of color simply do not have that privilege, and it’s on us to at the very least acknowledge it.

That’s exactly why these players are protesting, or considering protesting, or speaking out. It’s not about the flag. It’s not about the national anthem. That’s the vehicle for awareness, just like a city bus was the vehicle for Rosa Parks and a lunch counter was the vehicle for the Greensboro Four.

We can all learn something by listening to Wayne Simmonds, whether he takes a knee next week or not.