METAIRIE, La. — The NFL suspended Chicago Bears receiver Javon Wims for two games Monday for punching C.J. Gardner-Johnson, soon after the New Orleans Saints safety denied instigating the incident in Sunday’s game.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since being punched by teammate Michael Thomas in another altercation earlier this month, Gardner-Johnson disputed an NFL Network report that said Wims told Bears officials he spit on him prior to the punch that got Wims ejected from Sunday’s game.
Although cameras captured Gardner-Johnson ripping out Wims’ mouthpiece and jabbing a finger in the face of fellow Bears receiver Anthony Miller on previous plays, Gardner-Johnson insisted Monday that “I’m innocent.”
“It ain’t got nothing to do with me. If he’s acting out, that’s on him,” Gardner-Johnson said. “It wasn’t no incident. We won the game. I mean, everybody, it’s a lot of he said, he said. Ain’t nothing happened. Nobody got spit on.
“Shouldn’t be nowhere near the field of play when the game’s going on. So I ain’t answering no more questions about that.”
Gardner-Johnson did take a verbal jab at Wims on Instagram after the game, however, saying, “That man punch like a female” with a crying/laughing emoji.
Wims will be eligible to return to the Bears’ active roster the day after the team’s Nov. 16 game against the Minnesota Vikings. He has three days to appeal the suspension.
Gardner-Johnson offered even less detail on what led to the altercation with Thomas during a Week 5 practice. Thomas appeared close to returning from an ankle injury that week. But the team benched him as a disciplinary action after a practice altercation that included Thomas punching Gardner-Johnson.
“He’s still my teammate. There’s still respect for him. Can’t wait for him to get back so we can play football,” Gardner-Johnson said of Thomas, who still hasn’t returned to the field because of a Week 7 hamstring injury. “I’m not speaking on that situation, I’m sorry. I mean, we’re good. I see him every day. So I can’t wait ’til he gets back.”
Gardner-Johnson has earned a reputation as an agitator and trash-talker that dates back to his college days at Florida, when he infamously tried to plant the Gators’ flag in the center of Florida State’s field after a victory. Among other instances, Gardner-Johnson was spotted taunting Bears running back Tarik Cohen about his height in last year’s game at Chicago.
Gardner-Johnson briefly discussed that style of play Monday when asked if he tries to use his demeanor to his advantage by getting under the skin of opponents.
“I play football. It’s football; guys get chippy. I don’t know what to tell you,” said Gardner-Johnson, who was drafted by the Saints in the fourth round in 2019 before carving out a significant role as a nickelback. “I wouldn’t be here today if I’m not me. So I’m not gonna change for nobody. I’m out there playing football. So if it goes farther than that … it has nothing to do with me.”
But when pressed on whether coaches have warned him about crossing the line or encouraged him to play close to that line, Gardner-Johnson finally said, “If we’re not talking about football, please, about the game, something other than this. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said the coaching message to Gardner-Johnson is “somewhere in the middle” between warning him not to cross the line and encouraging him to keep his edge.
“Look, there’s a competitive nature to the player. And I think that we’ve got real good leadership throughout our team that can help him with that,” Payton said Monday. “And yet there is a competitiveness to how he plays. I thought he handled himself well after all that had gone on [Sunday in Chicago]. And he’s gotta be smart and understand it’s a long season, game to game, and to make sure it doesn’t impact or affect us.”
Bears coach Matt Nagy, who called the punch “unacceptable” Sunday after the game, told reporters he has since talked to Wims and that the wide receiver is apologetic for what happened.
“I did talk to Javon today,” Nagy said on a Monday video call. “Out of respect, I’m going to keep that between us and internally, but we did talk to him, and regardless of what went on, he was apologetic and knows that no matter what, you can’t do what he did.”
ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.