The journalist who questioned NFL player Robert Griffin III’s blackness apologized Wednesday.
ESPN announced Thursday that it is suspending commentator Rob Parker for 30 days over his on-air remarks about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, tightening editorial oversight of the “First Take” show and taking “appropriate disciplinary measures” against employees who played a role in allowing Parker’s remarks on the air.
On Dec. 13, Parker questioned whether Griffin was a “real” black man and was suspended “until further notice” two days later. ESPN said it was “conducting a full review.”
Parker had defended his remarks before the suspension, but he apologized on Wednesday, saying in an extended Twitter message, “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. . . .”
Some, such as Sam Laird of the Mashable website, expected a worse fate for Parker. “ESPN is now reportedly considering firing Parker altogether,” Laird wrote on Wednesday.
Others questioned whether “First Take” itself should be reined in, saying the program’s atmosphere was too freewheeling.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports wrote Saturday, “. . . those within the network who have decided to abdicate any sense of journalistic responsibility in favor of a craven desire for ratings and ‘buzz’ should probably take a few minutes and consider that they created and nourished an environment by which Rob Parker, who had made multiple professional missteps before, could thrive by saying stupid stuff and getting away with it.”
ESPN addressed that sentiment in its Thursday statement from Marcia Keegan, a vice president of production for ESPN, who oversees First Take:
“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.”
Parker said in the fateful broadcast:
“Some people I’ve known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is … is he a ‘brother,’ or is he a cornball ‘brother’? He’s not really … he’s black, 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’d want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don’t know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancée, people talking about that he’s a Republican … there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, ‘I have black skin, but don’t call me black.’ People wondered about Tiger Woods early on — about him.”
Although Parker apologized in his Tuesday Twitter post, he insisted, “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.”
While Parker was widely condemned for his remarks, media critic Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times wrote that suspension should take place only after Parker goes back on “First Take” and has the right kind of discussion about race.
“. . . There’s a lot going on here. African Americans have a long, tortured struggle with self-identity in a white-dominated society which has often associated our culture with the worst shortcomings in morality and intelligence,” Deggans wrote last week.
“It’s understandable that some people would be wary of black celebrities who might seek to minimize, disavow or downplay their connection to black people as if they are sidestepping something undesirable. . . .
“If any ESPN executives are still reading, let me suggest you avoid the corporate reflex of burying this controversy and instead have Parker return to First Take with some people who can talk about this issue with intelligence and insight.”
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz told Journal-isms by email, “this decision involved several people in management…and to answer your question, yes, African Americans were actively involved in that decision/discussion.”
Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.