TORONTO — Wayne Simmonds has a right to be angry.
He wants to tell the world how he feels, and there is so much more he could say in the wake of another vile on-ice racist incident marring the sport he loves.
But what Simmonds does say drives to the heart of the problem like a hammered nail — and hurts just as much.
“If I had it up to me, you got two choices: You're gonna either face off against us [and] we're gonna kick the crap out of you — or you're banned for life,” Simmonds said, addressing Andrei Denyskin’s racist taunt and mild punishment in the Ukrainian Hockey League. “It's come to a point where it's sickening, it's disgusting. The way that guy did what he did, without any hesitancy, makes me sick to my stomach.
"To know that I got to play, and potentially have my children play, hockey to face these types of incidents, I can see why people of colour don't want to play hockey. I can see why parents are completely afraid to put their kids into the sport. I'm the same way as well. I've faced a lot of these things myself, and I don't even know if I'd want my kids playing hockey to be quite honest.”
That last part stings most.
A proud son of hardscrabble Scarborough, Ont., now playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, the 33-year-old Simmonds represents all that is good about hockey.
Relentless work. Fearlessness. Overcoming odds and injuries. Too many missing teeth and scars to count. Forever fighting for his (mostly white) brethren on the bench.
Simmonds has busted his way from playing AA junior as a kid all the way up to a likely 1,000th-game ceremony this season.
He devotes countless hours of his free time raising money for and speaking with underprivileged kids who want to skate. He’s taken up a leadership position with the Hockey Diversity Alliance to fight for true equality beyond lip service.
To think Simmonds could be so soured on hockey’s blind eye to ignorance that he’s questioning his own son’s participation is disheartening.
In September 2011, during a preseason game in London, Ont., a fan threw a banana at Simmonds as he was scoring in a shootout.
In October 2012, while playing in Czech during the lockout, spectators chanted “Opice!” at Simmonds and friend Chris Stewart, a word they later learned translated to “monkey.”
A decade later, ain’t a damn thing has changed.
Until Thursday, Simmonds had bit his tongue. He read Denyskin’s lame “apology.” He watched some other NHLers pipe up. He learned that Denyskin’s target, Jalen Smereck, a black American, took a leave from his Ukraine club, while another racist got off light: a 13-game suspension.
Simmonds calls the ticky-tack punishment “embarrassing” and is asking for a stiffer solution.
“It's disgusting, honestly. Quite frankly, I'm getting sick of talking about stuff like this because it continues to happen,” Simmonds said.
“The IIHF, the UHL, whoever is the governing body there has to do something about that. That kid needs to be banned. I think that's the problem. You know, things like this are happening and it's not like it just happens [by accident or] it's a one-off. We've seen it happen a million times already, and the punishments definitely don't match the crime.”
Prior to meeting reporters Thursday, Simmonds relayed the abuse he received in Czech to new Leafs Kurtis Gabriel and Ondrej Kase while they were in the showers.
The players weren’t debating power-play formations; they were discussing the persistence of racism worldwide.
“Maybe some places are lagging behind, but everywhere needs to wake up. It's disgusting. All the information is on the Internet. There's no excuse anymore. You can educate yourself in five minutes,” Gabriel said, fiercely.
“If [a 13-game ban is] the max, that needs to be changed going forward. And the IIHF has the hammer, I guess, if [Denyskin] plays on the national team. I don't think he should be able to play for at least a year, that'd be my opinion.
“When you go light on racism, it just breeds. So, you’ve got to come down hard on it. There's no excuse for it anymore.”
Simmonds and Gabriel wore orange T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Every Child Matters” as they spoke with conviction. A loud reminder that it would be not only foolish but dangerous to believe racism is someone else’s issue.
“These things happen in Canada too, not just in the United States and across the world. I mean, cultural genocide was committed here on the Indigenous people in Canada. It started with the government and through the religious system,” Gabriel said.
“And I don't know if I've seen an acknowledgement from the church, but I think they're a huge part in this. I think atonement needs to be made. Some atrocities were committed, and I think everybody needs to be aware of that. We can have lots of different people in society, and that's what makes Canada a great country; a lot of different personalities in a locker room, that's what makes a great team. So, I think we just need to apply that to society as a whole.”
Gabriel challenged the scrum of white hockey reporters, P.R. reps and camera operators to look around: “I think we're the people that need to stand up and amplify these voices.”
Simmonds, too, called for deeper education of Canada’s Indigenous people.
“I know we're never gonna make it back up,” Simmonds said, “but I think this nation has to do a lot better job than we’ve done so far.”