It makes you sick to watch, a crass reminder chanted and repeated ad nausea that people — surprise, even people who like hockey — can be cruel and backwards and stupid.
“Opice! Opice!” roars the refrain from enough Czech voices that the ignorance is heard loud and clear on a YouTube replay the day after.
“Opice” is Czech for “monkey,” a word hurled by a significant portion of the Pirati Chomutov crowd at Bili Tygri Liberec forward Wayne Simmonds as he engages in a minor scuffle with Miroslav Zalesak after skating to the side of a teammate during a Czech Elite League road game on Sunday.
Simmonds’ best friend and fellow locked-out NHL forward Chris Stewart is on the ice at the same time. He hears the chant, too, but neither speaks Czech.
Both are Toronto-born players, Stewart is of Jamaican-Canadian descent, Simmonds of Black-Nova Scotian heritage.
Neither, we learn later, knows what it means at the time. Although the way Simmonds looks up amidst the hate and glares at the other team’s fan base, one might infer he has an idea.
“Appalling, unprofessional, and disgraceful”: those were the words used by Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson to describe the NHL owners’ latest CBA proposal. A little perspective suggests that Johnson’s adjectives be applied to the behaviour of the racist Chomutov fans, who failed to resist the opportunity to act like animals.
“We are disgusted by the behaviour of a group of spectators, who greatly damaged the reputation of the club. We would like to deeply apologize to the players and Simmonds’ Liberec whole team,” Chomutov marketing director David Dinda stated in a (translated) statement posted on the team’s website.
The team vowed to “do everything possible” to prevent the hate mongers from reentering the rink.
But is enough being done by hockey teams on both sides of the Atlantic from preventing this ugly display from occurring in the first place?
This is the second time Simmonds has been racially targeted by fans during a game. Last September, you likely recall, a man threw a banana at him during a shootout at a preseason game in London, Ont.
Simmonds scored anyway.
“That’s a first for me. I guess it’s something I obviously have to deal with — being a black player playing in 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,” Simmonds told the Toronto Sun at the time. “It’s over with now.”
And yet reading about this garbage in Czech or London conjures up a bilious cocktail of anger, disbelief and sadness. The same one guzzled when reading the racist tweets sent by some Boston Bruins fans after Joel Ward’s goal gave his Washington Capitals a dramatic Game 7 overtime win in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
Anger is the main ingredient, surprise is only a pinch.
Simmonds’ agent, Eustace King, spoke with Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Jeff Blair on Tuesday. Like anyone with common sense, he said the abuse suffered by the Philadelphia Flyers forward this week should not be accepted.
“It wasn’t until after the game that they were told about it and understood what was going on, and at that point they were highly offended,” King said of Simmonds and Stewart, the first black players to enter the Czech league this season. “The players know there’s a possibility these things are going to happen, and they’re not going to run away. They’re going to stand tall and make sure they get through it.”
King has a good idea. If fans can’t attend a sporting event in two-thousand-freaking-12 without being racist, a “code of conduct” should be displayed prominently at the venue’s entrance and on the back of each individual ticket.
Break that code, and you’re booted out of your seat, barred from all future games and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“Quite honestly, we’re tired of having to deal with this,” King told Blair.
Again, some perspective. We’re talking about a few loud idiots here, not a town or a country or a team or a league.
Simmonds’ Facebook page shows the quiet chants of other hockey people.
“You handle yourself with absolute class in the face of such bigotry,” writes one fan.
“We’ve got your back Wayne, stunned at the news out of Europe. Rock on. Hockey is hockey!” another chirps.
Of course, it’s Simmonds himself who has more perspective on the situation than anyone else.
Here is his only public response since Sunday’s embarrassment:
all my thoughts and prayers go out to those who are facing #sandy at the moment #staysafe
— Wayne Simmonds (@Simmonds17) October 30, 2012