What Wayne Simmonds is showing us about the sacred relationship between a Black man and his barber

Our hair is a thing for pretty much all Black people.

But you can't — and perhaps more precisely, won't — let just anyone touch your hair. Not with clippers.

Which is why there are a lot of Black men giving an understanding nod toward Toronto Maple Leafs wing Wayne Simmonds after Simmonds shared with media after his team's playoff-clinching win over Montreal that he was badly in need of a haircut.

"We've had a barber come in for most of the guys. Unfortunately I need a different type of barber, so my barber hasn't been able to come in. So I'm hurting a little bit here," Simmonds said.

Some of Simmonds' teammates have caused a buzz after that barber gave some of them mullets.

Teammates who, given that it's the NHL, are white and were able to get cuts with the barber. That barber apparently doesn't know how to cut Black hair, so Simmonds was out of luck. Canadian NHL teams in particular have had to deal with tighter restrictions due to COVID.

This isn't to say that Simmonds was intentionally left out; we don't know that and we're not saying it was malicious. What we are saying is that we hope going forward Toronto and any NHL team with a Black player or players is more aware of this type of situation; not every barber can cut Black hair. At minimum, finding a barber who could cut all members of the Leafs would have been good. Doing what they could to make sure Simmonds' preferred barber could be around the team would have been even better.

The Leafs had virtual media access on Monday, but the veteran right wing Simmonds wasn't one of the players made available.

Our hair is thicker, often coarser. The growth pattern can vary. Doing a fade on Black clients doesn't just require sharp clippers and the right guards to dictate length and holding the clippers at the proper angle. When you're using the edgers to clean up someone's hairline, you have to make sure the line is straight but not push it back, giving someone a bigger forehead than they walked into the shop with.

For many Black men, finding a good barber can become a relationship that lasts decades. It's that important.

And that much-talked-about "fresh cut feeling" they have when they get out of their barber's chair? It's priceless.

On social media, some fans came to Simmonds' defense, with some even tweeting directly to general manager Kyle Dubas and asking him to fix the situation, though of course there were others who didn't understand the big deal.

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 22: Wayne Simmonds #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes part in the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS Place on April 22, 2021 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)
Wayne Simmonds #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Three of my favorite men — my husband, Marcus, his best man and the godfather to our daughters, Darryl, and another longtime friend from our days at Syracuse, Sam — put the significance of it all into words for me.

"I shave my own head now, but when I don’t feel like shaving my head I go to the barber," Sam said. "Even with him shaving my head, you can't tell me nothing. I am handsome and that's all I care about. I look good, I'm fresh, I am ready to go.

"You can't tell me a single thing. I look great."

Sam was born and raised in Oakland, Calif., and moved back home after college where he's a social worker and coaches football and girls basketball. He's gone to the same barber since he was in eighth grade — so for 30 years.

Marcus has been seeing his current barber for a decade, and the relationship is much more than transactional at this point: we've seen Jose grow from a kid just out of high school to one that's in love and a new father, and invited his family to our home. He recently opened his own barbershop, and it's about 40 minutes from our house. Marcus makes that trip every two weeks.

"If it's been a while [since your last cut], it can be one of the best feelings ever," Marcus said. "If you're headed to a job interview you feel better about your chances, if you're in the grocery store you feel like eye candy, and you know it's because you've gotten a fresh cut because you can feel it.

"You can even smell it; so many barbers use the same products, so there's that familiar smell."

Marcus attended a military boarding school in New Mexico, and had a similar situation to Simmonds: there was a barber provided by the school to make sure cadets' hair always met military standards, but he didn't know how to cut Black hair. So Marcus, who had some practice cutting hair before arriving at the school, began offering cuts to classmates, which continued at Syracuse, where he cut both Darryl and Sam's hair, as well as some of the Orange athletes who wanted to look sharp for nationally-televised games.

"I would say it's important in general, even every week when it's that clean look," Darryl said. "Regardless of what you may be wearing, your hair is always there. Whether you're chilling in sweats or suited up, your hair is going to stand out, and your beard.

"You just feel like a better, more mature individual when you get out of that chair. When I'm traveling [for work] and I'm going to be out of town, I scope the barbers first and look at who's leaving their chair. If the person looks good leaving the chair, I'll ask if I can come this week or later today. I'd rather cut my own hair than go to somebody I don't know."

In Atlanta, where he lives with his family, Darryl and his son visit the barber together. Though he hasn't yet felt ready to return for regular cuts, he's still been paying his barber to help make up for the income he's lost because of the pandemic.

There's also another element: many Black people have believed that looking good is a way to garner respect from white Americans, told that our natural hair isn't acceptable in some schools or professional for some offices, all of which is of course yet another way to denigrate us. Or as Marcus' mother used to tell him bluntly: don't walk around looking like a mug shot.

(As it happens, HBO's "Last Week Tonight" explained much of this excellently in their most recent episode.)

Sam recalled a recent conversation with friends he knows through coaching: "Some people, you're told you always leave the house with clean drawers. Where we come from you have to make sure your hair looks presentable at all times. How people approach you, how they see you how you look, [they judge] based on your presentation."

Black men everywhere understood Simmonds' plight. Hopefully the Leafs can help him get that fresh cut feeling again soon.

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