National Anthem Protests in NHL? Wayne Simmonds, Joel Ward may protest opener
With less than 30 black players, there still could be scattered National Anthem demonstrations when hockey season starts.
Flyers' winger Wayne Simmonds isn't an American — he was born in Ontatio, Canada. But as one of just 27 active black players in the NHL, he couldn't help but watch with grave concern during last week's eventful weekend filled with demonstrations on the football field (and even some on the baseball diamond).
When the Flyers and Sharks kick off the 2017-18 NHL season next Wednesday in San Jose, Simmonds and another black player, (also from Ontario) Joel Ward are considering taking a knee during the National Anthem — to show unity with their fellow minority pro athletes and also speak out against the actions and words of President Donald Trump.
"What’s going on now is a shame," Simmonds said Wednesday, as told to philly.com's Sam Carchidi. "I definitely back [Ward's] 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. 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.”
Ward, who has mentioned that he may take a knee after getting hurled racist comments on Twitter last season, scored a game-winning goal in the playoffs and the comments made toward him sickened Simmonds.
Simmonds led the Flyers in goals last season with 31, and has had his own issues with racism — including having a banana tossed at him about five years ago.
Never an outspoken politically-driven player, Simmonds feels as though he may have a responsibility to quietly make a statement when the puck drops to open the new season.
“I knew at one point, this question was going to be asked to me," he said, "but I said to myself that I’ll take it as it comes. I don’t have anything in my mind at all as to what I would do. I’m not sure.”
Across the NHL feedback and thoughts were mixed. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement he respects the rights of players to express their views, while Sidney Crosby said he was excited to be invited to the White House, after winning last spring's Stanley Cup. Players like Johnny Gaudreau and P.K. Subban said they would never take a knee during the anthem.
Former Flyers and New Jersey native James Van Reimsdyk — now with Toronto, commented on not voting last year: "I think the great thing about the U.S. is you have the freedom to speak your mind." He also said it was the last time he wouldn't vote.