First Nations chief demands apology from NHL’s Campbell

Ottawa, Ontario (AP) 12-07

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations wants NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell to apologize to Chris Simon for mistakenly suggesting the suspended New York Islanders forward would receive counseling for drug and alcohol issues.

Phil Fontaine released a statement the day after Campbell announced that Simon would be banned for a league-record 30 games. Simon was suspended for stomping on Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jarkko Ruutu in a game during December.

“I agree with the NHL, and the vast majority of hockey fans, that Mr. Simon must be punished for this unfortunate incident with a Pittsburgh player during a December game,” Fontaine said. “However, it was extremely hurtful to Mr. Simon, and his many fans, including those in our First Nations communities, to hear from Mr. Campbell that such behavior is related to drug and or alcohol abuse.”

Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations, refused to comment.

During a conference call, Campbell said he hoped the “the actual help (Simon’s) going to get and counseling he’s going to get from the drug and the alcohol doctors” would help Simon “deal with the problem he has.”

A league spokesman said Campbell was referring to the league and union’s jointly administered substance abuse and behavioral health program, which is providing Simon counseling for behavioral management.

Counseling details are kept confidential, but Islanders spokesman Chris Botta confirmed drugs and alcohol are “not the issue.”

“I spoke to Islanders coach Ted Nolan who informed me that Mr. Simon has been very hurt and embarrassed by Mr. Campbell’s comments, even though an NHL spokesman did make a correction,” Fontaine said. “Mr. Simon, and all of his fans, would like to hear an apology, especially since it smacks of stereotyping.”

Nolan, like Simon is a member of the First Nation Ojibwa tribe, was angered by Campbell’s comments. He helped Simon through alcohol problems when he coached him back in juniors.

“It really bothered me, the implication, even if it was just a careless omission,” Nolan said. “These types of things are very damaging for someone in (Campbell’s) position to say when he has no factual information. If we said something like that, we’d be suspended. But there are no repercussions.

“Chris has a history of that type of thing and has worked extremely hard to overcome that. That’s his personal life, and a statement like that could affect his reputation, and affect the rest of his life. We talk about sensitive issues, but maybe some other people need sensitivity training.”

Simon missed the first five games of this season while completing a 25-game ban handed out in March. That was the previous record for an NHL suspension. This marks the eighth suspension of his 15-season career.