Two days after Utah Grizzlies forward Simon Ferguson used the “N-word” in a verbal altercation with Reign forward Chaz Johnson on Saturday, Reign coach Karl Taylor addressed the situation again in a team meeting prior to the team’s off-ice workout Monday.
Besides the vile and derogatory nature of the word itself, it’s an explosive situation for a few reasons.
To say Johnson lost his cool in the moment would be an understatement; he tried to leave the Reign bench and climb onto the Utah bench to retaliate against Ferguson, who was standing a few feet away from Johnson during the argument but then walked away after using the racial slur. Johnson had to be restrained by teammates and leave the game.
“To give me an opportunity to get back into the game, and line up with someone who just said that to me, I don’t think it would have been a fight,” Johnson said. “I think it would have been more than that, and probably my other type of sense level would have probably kicked in. Something probably would have happened that would have ended my hockey career. I think it was better to take myself out and let myself calm down.”
Neither Taylor nor any player I spoke to for the story (including Shawn Collymore, whose father is black), had heard the word used in a professional hockey game. As James McEwan said, “it’s tough to know what to do after that.”
The Reign’s enforcer did what he felt was his job. He told Ferguson they were going to fight in the second period, then punched the Utah forward even after Ferguson decided not to drop his gloves after being given what McEwan felt was fair warning.
It’s up to the ECHL to decide what to do next. Taylor, who has coached in the league since 2005, was not aware of a similar incident ever occurring during his time behind an ECHL bench. A Utah Grizzlies spokesperson said the league is investigating multiple incidents from the game. Any announcement of supplemental discipline should come before the Grizzlies’ next game, at home against Stockton on Wednesday.
Though the Grizzlies said Ferguson won’t comment while the league is investigating, Johnson said that he received a call from Ferguson on Sunday to apologize. Johnson also received a phone call from Reign president Justin Kemp — “just a show of support.”
McEwan said he’s known Ferguson for a few years. Both are British Columbia natives who honed their junior chops with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Check out his comments in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.
I don’t often transcribe entire, long interviews word-for-word, but here were my questions for Johnson and his answers:
What happened Saturday?
Things got heated. Me and Simon Ferguson were exchanging words face to face. He felt that he had to say something mean to me. What came out of his mouth was basically a racial slur that set me off. he looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘you’re not respected by your teammates.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He started arguing and said, ‘you’re not even respected by your teammates.’ I said, ‘do you think you are?’ he said, ‘I don’t care.’ He said, ‘you’re not respected by your teammates.’ And I said, ‘is that a fact?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna tell you why.’ I said, ‘why is that,’ and he said, ‘because you ain’t nothing but a -’ and you know the rest.
That set me off. I just went into attack, you know, fight mode. It’s never happened in a long time. It’s been a really long time since I heard anything like that. It was just crazy. It’s something that happened. Unfortunately it was probably something that was going to happen, not necessarily to me, but maybe to younger kids growing up, other black players coming up. I wish it never happened again, but like Karl was saying this morning there’s a lot of ignorant dumb people out there. or people who just don’t think before they speak.
What was the jist of that meeting with the team?
Well we addressed it right away in Utah. And then today, Karl spoke about it again.
Have you heard anything from Ferguson?
I know Simon Ferguson called me yesterday to apologize and kind of say why he said what he said. An apology, basically, to me is nothing. Anybody can say ‘sorry,’ you know. I just feel like, the type of player I am, especially if you felt you had to say something mean, obviously it got me off my game and I shouldn’t have let it get off my game, but it was just something to me that was bigger than hockey. You could have said anything in the world to me. You could even ask me to fight with you, whatever, but you didn’t have to go – that’s lower than a low blow.
Have you ever heard that word used against you in a pro game?
Six years playing pro, I never heard that word. I’ve been in a lot of rinks where you suck, you’re this, you’re that, other words that were very disrespectful but nothing close to that. It’s just, wow, I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. It sent me off into a whole different world. I zoned out from everything. I didn’t even feel like I was playing hockey anymore.
How was the game going prior to that point?
The game was going well. Everyone knows how I play my game, I play a very physical game. one of their players, a defenseman, I think (Matt) Soderberg, went back for a puck. there was a race for the puck between me and him. He tried to make a head fake on me. I kind of knew which way he was going. I finished my hit on him, but the way — Karl said that on tape it kind of looked like he tripped — but to me it felt like he tried to duck under my hit. You’re going to get hurt. I felt like I caught him somewhat maybe the side of the shoulder, the way his face was, on like the railing, there was a big hit. He ended up losing multiple teeth and I think a little bit of his lip that he has to get plastic surgery on. I don’t like to see people get hurt like that, but this is the game of hockey and things do happen. Everything just exploded from there. the referee was looking right at the hit, even came over to the bench and said it was a clean hit. Things that happen all the time. Their player that was serving the penalty, Riley Emmerson for the melee after – because a hit like that usually draws a crowd – he basically told me that me and him were going to fight. With my health, my shoulder, my elbow that was hurting me, I wasn’t going to fight this guy. When he came out of the penalty box, I was so focused on something else that when he came, he dragged me from behind and started throwing punches. I didn’t feel any punches thrown, but he was starting to throw punches. I just decided to cover up and then next thing you know, I got to the bench. I was getting yelled at by their bench. How Utah has it, both benches are right there and it’s just blocked by one glass. Me and Ferguson were face to face. He likes to talk, I like to talk. I can run my mouth with the best of ‘em. He was saying what he had to say, I was saying back what I had to say. He came back with that extra, that one line that put me into a whole different set of mind.
Luckily for Saul (Salama, the fill-in trainer) being there, I don’t know what would have happened. I could have been in a lot of trouble today. It’s not just something that happened there on the bench. It escalated there into the room and everything.
Could you have come back and continued to play?
I don’t know. I told Karl, I think it was a good decision to take myself out. I think I would have gone back into the game, if the game had gotten out of hand I would probably still be in Utah right now, because I would have been in a lot of trouble. Something like that, I don’t let slide. To give me an opportunity to get back into the game, and line up with someone who just said that to me, I don’t think it would have been a fight. I think it would have been more than that, and probably my other type of sense level would have probably kicked in. something probably would have happened that would have ended my hockey career. I think it was better to take myself out and let myself calm down. Let everything not blow over but, in the heat of the moment – just the way I am, I’m very fiery at points – I think it was a really good decision for me to come out.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna was at the game; did he speak to you?
I didn’t speak to him. What they were going to try to do is get statements from myself, from him, and from everyone that was around, if anyone heard it and just go from there. I’ll just take it day by day. My main focus is, we’re nine points out. I’m going to do everything I can to get this team in the playoffs.
I think this, it’s crazy to say, but I believe this situation definitely brought us all together. I wish it wouldn’t have happened, but it definitely brought us all together. I have great teammates who have supported me through all this. Just move on and get ready for Idaho.
I haven’t heard anything. Our owner Justin Kemp called me, just a show of support. Obviously Karl too. Other than that, I didn’t hear anything from the league.
Were you surprised that he called you?
I was very surprised that he called me. It takes a very big person to admit they were wrong. I don’t really accept apologies, but that he did make the effort to step up and admit what he did – as long as he knows that he’s wrong and hopefully he doesn’t use that word again. He thinks bad things happen. We’ll see what the league tries to do.
When he said it, how loud was it?
It wasn’t really quiet. it was a medium tone. I felt like he was getting ready to say something in that genre, because we were like face to face to the point where I could have punched him in the face, but he wasn’t saying anything that I haven’t heard before. When I said, ‘is that a fact,’ he said, ‘I’m going to tell you why,’ I said, ‘tell me why,’ then he started to like fade away. If he would’ve stayed there, I would have grabbed him. I would have got him. He started to lean back. I think he kind of knew he was getting ready to say something disrespectful. I know Dusty (Collins) was close. They knew it had to be something pretty bad for me to try to jump our bench to get in their bench.
What happens next?
What happens next is we catch Victoria, whoever we’re chasing, and we get into playoffs. I think you have to go through a lot of crazy moments. The whole situation with our trainer, now this, guys leaving left right and center, injuries, now this. I think you go through a lot of negatives before you go through a positive. Nine points out, we’re still in it. I think we can do it.