BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Chris Simon's alleged racial slur still ringing in his ears, Edmonton Oilers right wing Mike Grier sat in his hotel room yesterday and listened to the phone ring off the hook.
"It got to be too much," said Grier, 22, besieged by calls from the media in the United States and Canada. "I finally told the desk not to put the calls through."
It is now Simon, in a hearing scheduled for today in the NHL's New York headquarters, who will have to answer for what he said. Simon, the Washington Capitals left wing who is half Ojibwa (Native American), was assessed a gross misconduct for what he said to Grier, who is black, in the closing moments of the Capitals' 2-1 win over the Oilers Saturday night in Landover.
NHL vice president Brian Burke, the league's chief disciplinarian, suspended Simon from the Capitals' game Sunday night in Miami and likely will add to the penalty after the hearing. The league never before has suspended anyone for a racial epithet, but speculation around the league yesterday was that Burke will tag Simon with perhaps as much as a five-game suspension.
As of yesterday afternoon, Simon, 25, had not commented publicly about the incident. Jesse Price, a public relations assistant with the Capitals, said neither Simon nor anyone in the organization would comment until after the hearing.
Grier, in an interview at the club's hotel, said it was the first time in his year-plus in the NHL that he has been subjected to a racial slur.
"It's not something I've had to deal with at this level," he said, shortly before boarding the team bus for yesterday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, in which he would score his first goal of the season. "It's just something that opens your eyes a little bit, I guess."
With about 10 seconds to go in Saturday night's game, Washington defenseman Brendan Witt took a run at Doug Weight, hitting the Oilers forward across the face. Enter Simon, the menacing, 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound player who ranks as one of the league's most feared fighters.
"He was saying something to Dougie," Grier told the Edmonton Journal, "and I told [Simon] to be on his way."
Grier has not repeated what Simon then said to him, but reports have it that linesman Gord Broseker heard a racial slur and reported it to the league, standard practice when a player is assessed a gross misconduct. A source familiar with the report said yesterday that it took no stretch of the imagination to come up with the slur Simon used.
"I've had to deal with it my whole life," said Grier, the son of New England Patriots vice president/player personnel Bobby Grier, who grew up in Holliston, Mass., and ascended through the area's youth hockey ranks. "When I've heard those things, it's mostly been in hockey, and the older I got, the less I heard it."
In his three years at Boston University, said Grier, only once was he subjected to something similar, by an opponent he declined to name.
"The next year, we played, one of the last games of the year, and he said something," said Grier, who turned pro with the Oilers after his junior year with the Terriers. "We both got kicked out of that one and a fight almost happened." The player later apologized, but Grier said they have not spoken since.
Burke said Sunday that the league has warned players, and the NHL Players' Association, that racial slurs are "totally unacceptable." His decision could provide a benchmark for such incidents.
Grier said he spoke Sunday with former goalie Mike Liut, now associate counsel with the NHLPA.
"He made it clear that they support me," said Grier. "But at the same time, they're in a tough position because this involves two players -- they have to see that the league doesn't get out of hand."
Grier spoke without anger as he made his way to the bus. His words carried a tone of disappointment.
"I thought I was beyond it when I got to the NHL," he said. "I didn't have any trouble [last season]. Everyone was straight up and honest with me. It's always in the back of your mind that it could happen, though, but it's not something I was expecting."
Pub Date: 11/11/97