ESPN Suspends Commentator Over Racial Comments About Quarterback
By Bill Carter
ESPN announced on Friday that it had suspended Rob Parker, a commentator on the network’s program “First Take,” because of his racially oriented comments about the rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III.
During a planned discussion on Thursday’s show about whether Mr. Griffin, who is black and wears his hair in braids, was a “post-racial figure,” Mr. Parker, who is himself black, asked the question: “Is he a brother, or is he a ‘cornball’ brother?”
Pressed to explain, Mr. Parker said: “He’s black; he kind of does his thing. But he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us.”
He also said that Mr. Griffin was engaged to a white woman and referred to “all this talk” that the quarterback may be a Republican. The subject of Mr. Griffin’s hair being in braids also came up, and Mr. Parker said that this gave him pause because “that’s very urban” and “wearing braids is pure brother.”
The comments were immediately countered by one of the other panelists on the show, Stephen A. Smith, who is also black. He said he was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken about Mr. Griffin.
“The ethnicity or the color of his fiancée is none of our business,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s irrelevant. He can live his life in whatever what he chooses. The braids that he has in his hair, that’s his business. That’s his life.”
ESPN did not take any action in the immediate aftermath of the show, which was broadcast at 10 a.m. on Thursday. It was not until much later in the day, after the issue had been taken up on various Web sites, including one called “Awful Announcing,” that the network issued a first statement labeling the comments inappropriate.
On Friday, ESPN released another official statement: “Following yesterday’s comments, Rob Parker has been suspended until further notice. We are conducting a full review.”
A network spokesman, Mike Soltys, said ESPN would have no further comment pending its review.
Mr. Parker is a former columnist for The Detroit News.
The incident was instantly connected to other racially oriented comments made on ESPN. In 2003, the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who then appeared on ESPN’s weekend NFL pregame coverage, said that the Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated by a media that was “very desirous that a black quarterback do well.”
An ESPN executive first defended Mr. Limbaugh. But three days later, after a storm of criticism over what many labeled a racist remark, the network released a statement saying it had told Mr. Limbaugh that his comments were “insensitive and inappropriate.”
He resigned from ESPN that evening, saying he did not want to be “a distraction” to the network because of the McNabb comments.
Mr. Parker has declined comment since the program was broadcast, though he did respond via Twitter, calling his critics misinformed.