Leonsis apologizes; NHL looking into incident

Updated: January 28, 2004, 12:05 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis apologized to a fan who accused him of grabbing his neck and throwing him to the ground after a game.

Capitals spokesman Kurt Kehl confirmed Tuesday that Leonsis -- who is a vice chairman of America Online -- called Jason Hammer, a 20-year-old season-ticket holder who had taunted the owner.

"He's embarrassed. He regrets the incident happened," Kehl said. "He reached out to the fan."

The league, meanwhile, is looking into the matter, Frank Brown, the NHL's vice president for media operations, told the Washington Post.

Hammer, a Washington resident and season ticket-holder who sits across from Leonsis' luxury box, told The Washington Post that Leonsis placed his hands on his neck and tossed him down after the Capitals' home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

"The security guards came and broke it up, and pulled me away to the side," Hammer said. "But Ted was still trying to come at me again."

Other witnesses offered different versions to the Post.

Hammer told the Post he had led a derisive chant directed toward the owner during the game and held up a sign that read: "Caps Hockey; AOL Stock -- See a Pattern?"

Leonsis, 48, is vice chairman of America Online.

After the game, Hammer said he was walking past Leonsis with the sign held above his head when the owner approached him. Hammer then said Leonsis strangled him and security guards were needed to restrain the owner.

Team sources told the Post that Hammer had thrust the sign near Leonsis' face and heckled the owner, and Leonsis had shoved the fan aside.

One witness told the Post that Leonsis grabbed Hammer by the collar, drove him backward and pushed him down. Another witness said Leonsis and Hammer were yelling at each other before the owner approached the fan. The two then shoved each other, the witness said, before security guards restrained Leonsis.

Hammer, who told the newspaper Leonsis had called to apologize, said he did not intend to press charges.

"I think both he and I are going to drop it and continue on and have it be like that," he said.

Leonsis, 48, has a reputation as one of the more fan-friendly chief executives in professional sports. He often can be seen personally greeting spectators at Capitals home games and he answers fans' e-mails.

Sunday's game was the team's first at home since it traded star forward Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers. The Capitals have languished at the bottom of the NHL standings this season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.