Steve Simmons

Steve Simmons of The Toronto Sun has been involved in some notable controversies before, particularly with making up (and then trying to defend) a story about the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel eating hot dogs daily from a non-existent vendor, blasting Raptors’ players who were seen at a casino attached to their hotel, and reporting Maple Leafs’ star Auston Matthews’ positive COVID-19 test. Now, he’s involved in another one, related to him asking Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri why Ujiri has spoken out about racism and not about crime in Toronto. TSN’s Kayla Grey tweeted initial criticism of the coded language Simmons used here, and Simmons responded by criticizing her:

Grey responded to that:

Update: Here’s the clip of that question:

“You’re in a unique position being the only Canadian team in the NBA, and in charge of the only Canadian team in the NBA. Sometimes you see issues out there that really don’t pertain to this country at all. And I’m wondering, if in the city that you live in and operate in, shootings in Toronto are up 180 percent since you came and joined the Raptors. Death by gunfire is up by over 180 percent. Is it time for you and the Raptors to get involved in more local issues, to try and work with a city that’s seeing crime at a rate it’s never seen before?”

Simmons’ paper, The Toronto Sun, has a long history of problematic columns and articles on race, with many of them asserting the same sort of coded “crime” links he used here. And Simmons’ question to Ujiri Thursday came after the Sun ran a column from Lorrie Goldstein making many of these same assertions, titled “Do Black lives matter to Toronto’s gangs?“, using a photo of a gun, and starting with “In Canada’s largest city, Black lives are increasingly expendable. The reason is that while many businesses are shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gang business is big business in Toronto and business is booming.” So this is completely fitting behavior for someone from that paper, but it’s slightly more unusual to see their sports section sliding into that line of comment.

It’s unclear how much “research” Simmons did ahead of this question, and how many fake hot dog vendors he talked to. But his attempt to go after Ujiri on local “crime” falls short on several levels. For one, going after NBA figures’ activisim with “What about crime in Chicago!” is an age-old whataboutism strategy from right-wing outlets and personalities, from Bill O’Reilly (who claimed “LeBron James should go to Chicago and help the poor people there“) to Tucker Carlson (not specifically about the NBA in this case, but he had a “Chicago needs federal help to stop senseless killings” piece in July criticizing Black Lives Matter activists in general for not stopping unrelated gun violence in Chicago).  Goldstein is merely extending that to Toronto (as many of his paper’s columnists have before), and Simmons is bringing it to the NBA. And then he’s getting even worse still with his insulting response to Grey, a Black woman who quite likely knows a lot more about racism than he ever will.

The other particularly idiotic thing Simmons is doing here by trying to shift the focus to “Toronto crime” is ignoring how the issues of racism Ujiri and the Raptors are discussing are extremely relevant to Canadians, be they Black, indigenous, or people of color. Golden State Warriors’ player turned TNT analyst Draymond Green already made that mistake, going after the Raptors’ Black Lives Matter buses (also in a question to Ujiri, strangely enough) with “It doesn’t directly impact your team.” Black players on the Raptors absolutely experience racism at home and on the road, something Chris Boucher (a Black Canadian player on the Raptors) pointed out:

And there’s plenty of racism in Canada past and present, and not just for NBA players. And racism on the road is real too; it’s something Ujiri himself has faced with attempted criminal charges and then a lawsuit from an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy, whose claims were eventually cast into harsh doubt by video. So it’s quite logical for Ujiri to be using his platform to take a wide stand against racism, and for him not to be asked to deal with “crime” in Toronto. And Grey asked Ujiri a follow-up to Simmons’ question, and got a good response:

Grey also relayed Ujiri’s response to a question (from ESPN’s Tim Bontemps) about the release of that tape:

And that question from Bontemps was much better than the one from Simmons, and was recognized as such by Raptors radio broadcaster Paul Jones:

It’s a good thing that the Canadian sports media has smart and insightful people like Grey asking informed and relevant questions and relating their own perspectives. It’s also good to questions from American journalists like Bontemps. It’s a less good thing that the Canadian sports media scene also has Steve Simmons.

[Kayla Grey on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.