The Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds and the Sharks’ Joel Ward — veteran wingers and close friends who are two of about 30 black players in the NHL — are undecided about whether they will kneel when the national anthem is played before the season opener in San Jose on Wednesday.
Both are considering it.
In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Ward, who wears No. 42 in honor of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson, said he has experienced racism in hockey and that he was open to the idea of kneeling, a trend that has grown among National Football League players as the national anthem is played.
“I definitely back Wardo. I know Wardo very well,” Simmonds said Wednesday at the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees. “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.”
Simmonds, who led the Flyers with 31 goals last season, said people are misinterpreting the kneeling.
“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.”
He said those conversations “aren’t going to be comfortable. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. The intention is to get a conversation going.”
Added Simmonds: “In this day and age, obviously, you have to be cognizant of everything that’s going on. You see the protests in the NFL, you see guys in baseball starting to kneel. … It’s a hard subject to talk about. Everybody’s on one side or the other. It’s a fine line.”
Simmonds said that kneeling is not solely about racial injustice.
“I don’t think it’s black and white; at this point, it’s about what’s wrong and what’s right. It’s not just a black and white thing. It’s the LGBT community, it’s different ethnicity — black, brown, Asian, all that. It shouldn’t just be black and white.”
Simmonds stood during the national anthem before Monday’s exhibition game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
To those who watch sports as an escape and are offended by protests, Simmonds pointed to President Trump.
“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.”
Simmonds, an Ontario native, said, “You have to be really educated about it when you’re speaking, and that’s why I’m trying to speak carefully, because I’m not trying to send the wrong message. But for me, this is something that is obviously near and dear to my heart, because I have faced these social injustices and inequalities, so it’s a touchy situation.”
Before the 2011-12 season, his first with the Flyers, a fan threw a banana at Simmonds during an exhibition game in London, Ontario. The man was fined $200 for “provincial trespassing,” but police said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with a hate crime.
At the end of that season, Simmonds said he was sickened by the dozens of racist and vulgar comments that Twitter users directed at Ward, then with Washington, after he scored an overtime goal to defeat Boston, 2-1, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“It’s disgusting,” he said at the time. “Things like that have happened to me before. … It’s sad in this day and age that it continues to happen.”
Simmonds, 29, and Ward, 36, both grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, but didn’t meet until later in the lives.