METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson declined to elaborate much on what led to him being punched by both teammate Michael Thomas and Chicago Bears receiver Javon Wims in two separate high-profile incidents over the past month.
But the animated second-year pro did deny an NFL Network report that Wims told Bears officials Gardner-Johnson spit on him, leading to his ejection Sunday for sucker-punching him on the field.
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.
Gardner-Johnson — who spoke to the media Monday for the first time since either incident occurred — 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, dating 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.
But Gardner-Johnson declined to elaborate much on that style of play either 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 nickel back. “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.”
When pressed on whether coaches have warned him about crossing the line or whether they have encouraged him playing close to that line, Gardner-Johnson finally ended the line of questioning by saying, “If we’re not talking about football, please, about the game, something other than this. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Bears coach Matt Nagy, who called the punch “unacceptable” after the game Sunday, told reporters he’s 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’s 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.”