The NHL suspended Washington Capitals left wing Chris Simon for three games without pay yesterday in response to a racial epithet Simon made to Edmonton forward Mike Grier on Saturday.
Simon, who has served one game, will miss the Capitals' road games against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight and the Buffalo Sabres Thursday. The suspension will cost him about $36,600 in salary, and he also has volunteered to run some clinics at the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Southeast Washington.
"First of all, I want everyone to know that I got to meet with Mike Grier and I apologized to him face to face," Simon said last night at National Airport after returning from New York, where he met with league officials. Simon went to Toronto Monday to apologize personally to Grier. "I'm very saddened and embarrassed by what took place. . . . It's unacceptable. There's no excuse for it.
"Before I saw Mike this was very hard for me. The last two nights before that I didn't sleep. But the most important thing for me was to apologize to him, to the Washington Capitals organization and the people of Washington."
At Saturday's game, Simon's remark to Grier -- a two-word phrase combining an obscenity with a racial epithet -- came after the final buzzer, and Grier, who is black, had to be restrained by teammates and a linesman upon hearing it.
"At the end of the game we came on the ice," Simon said. "The two of us had words to say to each other. At the end, that came out. It shouldn't have happened."
Simon's absence will put a strain on the Capitals, who have lost three players to injury since the incident. Center Michal Pivonka will miss four weeks with a fractured left hand, Mike Eagles will miss six weeks with a fractured wrist and right wing Pat Peake will be out for an undetermined amount of time with a torn ligament in his right foot.
Peake, who couldn't play in Sunday's loss to Florida, needs surgery. Eagles played Sunday but injured his wrist in the first period. Pivonka initially injured his hand in Phoenix on Oct. 23. Both had MRI exams Monday that revealed fractures.
"When you have to factor in Simon's suspension, we're a little short, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, it's just the reality," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said.
Wilson will scramble his lines again tonight, with Adam Oates and Peter Bondra likely to play with defenseman Phil Housley as their left wing. Defenseman Ken Klee also will need to play forward, as forwards Yogi Svejkovsky, Joe Juneau and Andrei Nikolishin are still on injured reserve.
Simon, a Native American, has been a victim of similar epithets throughout his career. His only other NHL suspension came in 1995, for batting a stick toward then-Philadelphia defenseman Dennis Vial after Vial called him a racist name. It was after that incident and a similar incident in the American Hockey League that the NHL released a policy on racial epithets, condemning their use and also condemning any physical retaliation for their use.
Simon, aware that he was suspended for violating a policy he was partly responsible for creating, noted his own heritage yesterday.
"It's been done to me growing up, and I should have known better," he said. "Hopefully I'll be forgiven."
Back in Edmonton after his team's flight from Toronto, Grier proclaimed the three-game suspension appropriate, saying Simon had "been through a lot" since the incident. But he also said that while "I'm sure I can forgive him, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to forget for a long time. It's something we're both going to have to live with."
Grier and Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who has accompanied Simon for the past two days, felt the meeting between Grier and Simon in Toronto on Monday had an impact on the decision of NHL senior vice president Brian Burke yesterday. Simon flew to Toronto at his own expense, and he was even more anxious about apologizing to Grier than he was about meeting with Burke, McPhee said.
"I'm quite proud of both individuals involved," McPhee said. "Mike Grier was very gracious; he kept a clear mind and opened his heart and accepted Chris's apology. And Chris showed some courage and humility. He was very nervous before the meeting last night; he had a lot of anxiety."
Burke never had suspended a player for a racial epithet. He noted Simon's visit to Grier in his decision, but said that "while Mr. Simon's initiative in traveling to Toronto to apologize to Mr. Grier is commendable, his action warrants the discipline imposed. We want a clear message sent to our players and our fans that this conduct is unacceptable."
Later, Burke said he was also impressed with Simon's desire to do some community service. The arrangements of Simon's involvement with Fort Dupont were not yet finalized, but McPhee believed it would involve some clinics and speaking to groups of children.
"He's volunteered to work with some inner-city kids, similar to what he's done on his reservation with native kids," he said. "We do believe that his reaction to his mistake mitigated the suspension. We all make mistakes, it's how we respond to mistakes that's just as important." CAPTION: Chris Simon's suspension will cost him about $36,600 in salary. He has served one game. CAPTION: Chris Simon, meeting media at National Airport, has volunteered to run some clinics at hockey club in Southeast Washington.