Limbaugh resigns over comments about McNabb

Updated: October 2, 2003, 7:13 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- One day after giving up his job at ESPN amid a fury of criticism over his comments about Donovan McNabb, Rush Limbaugh explained his decision this way: It was the path of least resistance.

Speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention here, Limbaugh said Thursday he resigned as an ESPN sports analyst to protect network employees from the uproar.

But he still refused to back down from the remarks he made three days earlier, when he said the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.

"The great people at ESPN did not want to deal with this kind of reaction," the commentator told the convention. "The path of least resistance became for me to resign."

Democratic presidential candidates and the NAACP had criticized the radio talk show host, calling on him to quit. Limbaugh did late Wednesday.

It was on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" show -- before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills -- that Limbaugh said he didn't think McNabb was as good as perceived from the start.

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said on the show. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie on Thursday criticized ESPN for hiring Limbaugh in the first place and called the commentator's comments "despicable."

"We thought we were long past this," Lurie said. "When you hire somebody like that, this is what you're going to get. It wasn't a surprise. You get what you hire."

He also criticized ESPN's new series about a fictional professional football team, "Playmakers," saying it promotes racial stereotypes of the league. "They don't deserve to be portrayed like this for quick ratings," Lurie said.

Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for ESPN, said, "We obviously disagree with his comments."

Limbaugh has denied that his comments were racially motivated. He said at the convention in Philadelphia that he thought about the issue the night before making the comments and wanted to write an essay on it.

"It's something I have believed for quite a while," Limbaugh said. "I don't mean it to hurt anybody. ... It's just an opinion."

McNabb said Wednesday that he didn't mind criticism of his performance but was upset Limbaugh made his race an issue.

Meanwhile, law enforcement sources who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity confirmed Thursday that Limbaugh is being investigated in Florida for illegally buying prescription drugs.

Limbaugh, the radio host of the "Rush Limbaugh Show," did not address the drug investigation reports in his speech to broadcasters.

Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the radio show to more than 650 markets, issued a statement from Limbaugh on Thursday, saying: "I am unaware of any investigation by any authority involving me. No government representative has contacted me directly or indirectly. If my assistance is required, I will, of course, cooperate fully."

The allegations were first reported by the National Enquirer.

The Enquirer interviewed Wilma Cline, who said she became Limbaugh's drug connection after working as his maid. She said Limbaugh abused OxyContin and other painkillers.

Ed Shohat, a Miami lawyer for Cline and her husband, said Thursday, "The Clines stand by the story." Shohat said neither he nor his clients would comment further.

National Enquirer Editor in Chief David Perel declined to say whether the Clines were paid for their interview, but said the tabloid does "pay for interviews, photographs and exclusives -- as long as they can be proven to be true." Referring to media reports saying the Clines were paid six figures for their story, Perel said, "People are just making things up."

Limbaugh skipped his radio show Thursday to attend the broadcasters' convention. He was scheduled to be back on the air Friday.

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