An NHL investigation of accusations that two Tampa Bay Lightning players made racial slurs directed at Peter Worrell of the Florida Panthers concluded there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.
The ruling Thursday, the eve of the season opener between the intrastate rivals, came after league officials reviewed videotape of an Oct. 2 exhibition game and interviewed executives of both teams.
The league said Worrell, who is black, told officials he heard no racial remarks or saw any particularly offensive gestures.
The NHL also investigated whether Worrell was the subject of racial comments during or after the game. McCarthy and Tucker denied the accusations and demanded an apology from Panthers executives.
"The Panthers organization considers this issue closed and will have no further comment," team spokesman Mike Hanson said following the ruling. "Peter has expressed a desire to put this situation behind him and concentrate on beginning the season tomorrow night."
In its ruling, the NHL said it didn't doubt the integrity of two Panthers employees who claimed to hear racial insults.
However, the league added, "after interviews with 14 other individuals, virtually all of whom were in the vicinity of the alleged incidents and virtually none of whom heard any such remarks or saw any particularly offensive gestures, a significant preponderance of testimony supports the three players' version of what transpired."
The Lightning was en route to South Florida for Friday night's opener when the NHL announced its decision.
"That the league is unable to conclude there is a basis to these particular allegations should in no way suggest even the slightest tolerance by the league of racial taunts or slurs or other inappropriate conduct," Colin Campbell, NHL senior vice president and director of hockey operations, said in a statement.
"Any racially motivated behavior is unacceptable. Players in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers and have the absolute right to operate in an environment from racial innuendo. Any behavior to the contrary will be dealt with severely."
Dennis Cunningham, NHL vice president of security, interviewed players and employees of the teams as well as arena and security personnel of the arena in Jacksonville.
McCarty said earlier this week that he had been accused of making "apelike" gestures toward Worrell, but insisted the only gesture he made was a "chicken" gesture because the Florida player refused to fight.
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