Jun 182013

Nick CelliniAtlanta sports radio station 790 The Zone has fired hosts Stephen “Steak” Shapiro, Nick Cellini, and Chris Dimino for an unbelievably tasteless skit taking shots at former former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is battling Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

During the skit, the hosts staged a fictitious guest appearance by Gleason (performed by Cellini), pretending that Gleason was using a voice synthesizer to sound like Stephen Hawking. “Gleason” then went on to say, “I wish I could play”, “I may not be here on Thursday”, “Smother me… do me a favor”, and “I’m going to Hell” in a short skit that wouldn’t be funny even if the material wasn’t outrageous. Pro Football Talk (PFT) and other sites have shared a link to the “bit”, and I have listened to it. I’m not going to bother to share the link; you can find it if you want to, but it’s really not worth listening to.

For it’s part, the station first suspended the trio, then followed up with this statement: “We deeply regret the offensive programming that aired this morning on ‘Mayhem In The AM’ on 790 The Zone, related to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS.”

790 The Zone absolutely did the right thing in terminating these morons. And for anyone wishing to allege that this is political correctness run amuck, or that the hosts have the right of free speech, a couple of thoughts. First, some things aren’t funny; especially when they involve physical or mental ailments that a person cannot control. Whether it is Gleason’s ALS, or Rush Limbaugh shaking like a rag doll when making fun of Michael J. Fox, it’s just not funny. And sure, this is America and people can say what they want for the most part, but freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from responsibility. The radio station is a business driven by advertising, and the station was well aware of the fact that sponsors would likely walk (and should have) if the station did not take strong action. This was on company time, not personal time, and I am glad the station did the right thing. What remains to be seen now is whether or not these idiots get rewarded with a show on ESPN.

I hope I’m kidding.

Dec 202012

ParkerThe worldwide leader in sports has once again shown that it is anything but.

Rob Parker, the embattled ESPN personality who was “indefinitely” suspended by the network following his atrocious comments with regard to Robert Griffin III, will be re-instated by the network after a 30 day suspension, following Parker’s Twitter apology yesterday.

Here is Parker’s apology:

I blew it and I’m sincerely sorry. I completely understand how the issue of race in sports is a sensitive one and needs to be handled with great care. This past Thursday I failed to do that. I believe the intended topic is a worthy one. Robert’s thoughts about being an African-American quarterback and the impact of his phenomenal success have been discussed in other media outlets, as well as among sports fans, particularly those in the African-American community. The failure was in how I chose to discuss it on First Take, and in doing so, turned a productive conversation into a negative one. I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN’s reaction. Perhaps most importantly, the attention my words have brought to one of the best and brightest stars in all of sports is an unintended and troubling result. Robert Griffin III is a talented athlete who not only can do great things on the field, but off the field handles himself in a way we are all taught – with dignity, respect and pride. I’ve contacted his agent with hopes of apologizing to Robert directly. As I reflect on this and move forward, I will take the time to consider how I can continue to tackle difficult, important topics in a much more thoughtful manner.

This apology is a ridiculous farce, particularly given Parker’s conduct following his on-air statements. While I would be very tempted to give Parker the benefit of a doubt had Parker issued the apology within 24-48 hours of making his idiotic remarks, the fact is that Parker instead fully committed to his remarks in the days that followed, calling his critics “uneducated” and “silly.” It was only after Parker was suspended by ESPN, and likely upon being told that his prospects for future employment were looking dim, did Parker sit down with his agent and publicist to have other people write a statement for him that he truly does not believe in, but knows he has to say.

And, by the way Rob… are your agent and publicist black? Or are you just a “cornball?” Since it’s a fair question for you to ask, let’s see how you feel when the tables are turned?

Let’s look at some of Parker’s word choices.

Parker: I believe the intended topic is a worthy one.
Ghost Rat: What topic is that… cornball brothers versus real brothers? Please elaborate. Your “intended topic” was whether or not RG III was authentically “black enough” for you and your friends to hang out with. I am calling bullshit.

Parker: I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN’s reaction.
Ghost Rat: You completely understand? Based on what exactly? Your tweets in the days following made it clear that you were firmly convinced that you were right, and that the rest of us were idiots. And why mention ESPN’s response? Perhaps because that is what forced your public change of opinion. Hollow.

Parker: Robert Griffin III is a talented athlete who not only can do great things on the field, but off the field handles himself in a way we are all taught – with dignity, respect and pride.
Ghost Rat: If that is truly the case, why does his choice of relationship partner matter? Or his political views? Or the way he wears his hair? If you really felt this way about Griffin, you might have added that to your asinine comments on the air. And this comment is in direct conflict to your heartfelt opinion on First Take, in which you said:

“He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.”

He’s not real, you said. How is that comment compatible with RG III as someone who handles himself with dignity, respect, and pride?

ESPN issued the following statement regarding Parker’s relationship with the network:

ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday’s episode of First Take. Our review of the preparation for the show and the re-air has established that mistakes both in judgment and communication were made. As a direct result, clearly inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing. Both were errors on our part. To address this, we have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures. We will continue to discuss important issues in sports on First Take, including race. Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it on First Take. However, we believe what we have learned here and the steps we have taken will help us do all that better.

Three things are clear to me based on this statement. First, the ESPN editors and ombuds are asleep at the wheel. Last month, the Poynter Review Project concluded 18 months of observing ESPN’s activities. Kelly McBride and Jason Fry authored a compelling and critical column drawing six important conclusions about the network and the way it operates. ESPN’s decision to keep Parker is tone deaf. The comment by Robert Griffin III that precipitated the conversation was Griffin’s comment that,

For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin. You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I strive [for]. I am an African American, in America, and that will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.

Parker used that statement to accuse RG III of trying to “(distance) himself away from black people”, when in fact RG III did nothing of the sort. He was simply making the point that his accomplishments are the result of his character and his work ethic rather than a product of his skin color, and he is absolutely right.

Second, ESPN is employing an inconsistent standard with respect to comments over ethnicity. Rush Limbaugh, a white “personality”, was rightly fired by ESPN for awful and stupid comments about Donovan McNabb. So why does a black “personality” get to make racist comments about a black quarterback and get to keep his job? Why is that acceptable? How are racist comments any better coming from a black man who is just as ignorant as Rush?

Finally, it is very clear to me that ESPN will continue to allow its on-air personalities to make mistakes like this over and over, and there will be no real accountability. Removing Parker for 30 days accomplishes nothing. But giving Parker a pink slip would make it clear that while race (or more accurately, ethnicity) is a part of any societal conversation, on air personalities have no right to pass personal judgments based on their own “uneducated” and “silly” points of view. It is an insult to the person being judged, to the viewers, and to society as a whole.