Akim Aliu, Wayne Simmonds respond to reporter's 'racist' column

A controversial column from Toronto reporter Steve Simmons prompted strong responses from veteran NHL forward Wayne Simmonds and former professional hockey player Akim Aliu on Sunday. (Getty Images)
A controversial column from Toronto reporter Steve Simmons prompted strong responses from veteran NHL forward Wayne Simmonds and former professional hockey player Akim Aliu on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Akim Aliu, the chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, defended himself against from Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons on Sunday, who accused the 33-year-old of not being able to know what’s wrong with hockey.

"No one wants to say this because of the politically correct police and all, but those who coached Akim Aliu must cringe every time they see him in a news report or a commercial talking about what's wrong with hockey. Like he would know," Simmons wrote in his Sunday Notes column.

"By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was colour-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?"

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Aliu responded with a blistering, concise message Sunday:

“The only reason I’m addressing this is because it’s all over the internet. I’ve seen Steve talk negatively about me for some time now and the funny thing is I’ve never spoken to him, or met him in my life. I actually found out what he said through other members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. People like Steve are what’s wrong with society. This is the first time in history the crucial conversation of race is prevalent. I believe my story and what the HDA is doing is a major reason for that.

“You have absolutely no clue, Steve, what I and my family have been through both physically and emotionally since I’ve started playing hockey and the scars it has left. When I showed this to my dad, he literally broke out in tears.”

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Aliu then recounted the several racist experiences he faced in his career, which Simmons dismissed in his column.

“The real question here is are you saying there’s no racism in the game with everything that’s gone on? What are you actually trying to do by comparing myself to Wayne, who is an incredible leader in this space and is promoting the same message as I? What coaches are you referring to? Guys like Bill Peters? Are you saying I didn’t get called a n— and get sent down to the [ECHL] when I was actually leading my AHL team in scoring in my first professional season? Are you saying I wasn’t hazed in my rookie year in the OHL, made to strip naked in a bathroom with five other men and afterwards got my teeth cross checked out for not wanting to do it again and subsequently get blackballed by Hockey Canada as my stock dropped?”

Simmonds also responded shortly after Aliu tweeted his response to Simmons.

“I really don’t appreciate what you're trying to do [Steve Simmons] your article was asinine and in no way reflects the real plight that my self, Akim and other players of colour go through,” Simmonds tweeted.

"You are minimizing the pain and suffering and dismissing the actual fight that we as a people actually have to endure just to even be accepted in the game of hockey at a lower level, nevermind the professional ranks," he said. "Do not ever use my name or any other player of colour's name to try and make your point.

"We will no longer sit by quietly as our characters are assassinated Steve! This will only make us stronger and speak out against people of your nature."

Aliu ended his response by calling Simmons a racist.

“You are racist and you are arrogant. You have zero credibility and respect from even your own peers in the media space and athletes alike. If the Toronto Sun had any integrity whatsoever, you’d never write another column again. Once again I’m going to tell you, you will never divide us.”

Aliu was involved in perhaps the most famous hazing incident in Canadian hockey in 2005, when he refused to strip naked with other rookies in a locked bathroom at the back of the team bus. Three weeks later, a video surfaced of Aliu fighting Windsor Spitfires teammate and Philadelphia Flyers first round pick Steve Downie in practice, after Downie had cross-checked Aliu in the face, knocking out seven teeth.

Aliu made headlines again in 2019 when he alleged that former NHL head coach Bill Peters hurled racial slurs at him when he was a member of the AHL's Rockford Ice Hogs in the 2009-10 season, notably saying, "I'm sick of you playing that n— s—," referencing his choice of music in the locker room. Two of Aliu teammates corroborated the story publicly, and Peters resigned as head coach of the Calgary Flames on Nov. 29, 2019.

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