Ottawa Senators centre Vaclav Prospal yesterday admitted directing an ethnic slur at Montreal Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois during a National Hockey League game last week.
He apologized to French Canadians yesterday, but made it clear he would not apologize to Brisebois.
"I do admit I said those things, that I said them in the heat of the battle," Prospal told the Senators' flagship radio station, Sports Radio 1200: The Team, before last night's game in Raleigh, N.C., against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"I do apologize to French Canadian people who may be offended by that comment but I never will apologize to the one Frenchman who caused this controversy."
After the Canadiens' practice on Monday, Brisebois told three French-language reporters covering the team that Prospal, a native of the Czech Republic, called him a "f-----g frog," during the second period of a 4-4 tie on Dec. 27, after Brisebois crosschecked Prospal.
Prospal said that he had heard the word "frog" used to refer to French Canadian players in the past and had heard other players laugh about it.
Brisebois said that he asked linesman Ray Scapinello if he heard what Prospal had said, and Scapinello replied that he had. The officials' game report does not mention the incident, but Brisebois said that he wants the NHL to investigate the matter.
"This has been discussed by the [NHL]players' association and the league. We don't want that in our league."
"We are looking into it," Frank Brown, vice-president of media relations for the NHL, said yesterday.
Brisebois, in Washington for a game last night, refused to discuss the statements. When asked if he accepted Prospal's apology, an angry Brisebois said, "I have no answer. I have a game tonight. I don't want to talk about it."
Senators coach Jacques Martin, a French Canadian, said Prospal was "remorseful" for his remark.
"He apologizes to his teammates, the hockey club and to all Senators fans for any embarrassment this may have caused," Martin said.
Earlier this season, the NHL suspended Bryan Marchment for one game for a remark directed at Donald Brashear, a Vancouver Canucks forward who is black. In 1997, the Washington Capitals' Chris Simon and Craig Berube were suspended in separate incidents for racist comments made to black opponents.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Tie Domi was the subject of a league investigation stemming from allegations from the Philadelphia Flyers' Sandy McCarthy that Domi had uttered racist statements during a game.
This season, the NHL hired Zachary Minor as a consultant dealing with matters of diversity. Minor, who has also worked with other professional leagues, met with each NHL team for more than an hour. The clubs were also shown a videotape on diversity that was made for the NHL.
"It's been two years since I've had verbal abuse like that," said Brisebois, who sat out a return game between the teams two days later while awaiting the birth of his first child.
The story was splashed across the front page of the tabloid le Journal de Montreal. "Patrice Brisebois denounces racism in the NHL" read the headline, accompanying a photograph of the player. Montreal's La Presse and Quebec's Le Soleil also covered the story, with Le Soleil making it the line story in its sports section.
According to Prospal, the slur was uttered after he was hit on the back of the head by Brisebois in a scrum in front of the Canadiens' goal. "I said those words to him and he asked me 'What am I?' and I said the same words over again. I said it twice," Prospal said.
The players have had a history of clashes, he said.
"I read somewhere that I dislocated his shoulder or something one time," Prospal said.
He accused Brisebois of making a throat-slashing gesture off the ice after a game last season. Prospal said that he and his wife Monika were talking to Canadiens winger Martin Rucinsky, a fellow Czech, when Brisebois went past and made the slashing motion.
"Since then, I got no respect for the man," said Prospal, who didn't mention Brisebois by name during an interview with reporters after the Senators' morning skate. "He did that in front of my wife."
Addressing his teammates and French Canadian hockey fans in the Ottawa-Hull and Montreal regions, Prospal added that: "I'm European, so maybe I didn't notice it or fully understand the comments. But I hear from some people that this is a very serious matter. I don't think I'm a racist."