Pearl apologizes for off-the-cuff joke

Updated: September 25, 2009, 7:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl has apologized for an off-the-cuff joke he made about a rural area of the state at a charity fundraiser Thursday, calling it "inappropriate."

Pearl, speaking without notes, was addressing Tennessee Valley Authority employees about the challenges he and his staff face in getting players from diverse backgrounds to play as a team.

"I've got a tough job. I've got to put these guys from different worlds together, right?" Pearl said. "I've got guys from Chicago, Detroit ... I'm talking about the 'hood! And I've got guys from Grainger County, where they wear the hood.''

[+] EnlargeBruce Pearl
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIBruce Pearl, seen coaching in last season's SEC tournament, made his remark during a charity event hosted by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Later Thursday, Pearl issued an apology for the remark, which came in front of television cameras and was aired by WBIR-TV of Knoxville.

"This morning while speaking at a private kick-off event for a great organization that benefits many local charities, I made a statement in jest to describe the diverse group our staff recruits year-in and year-out, " Pearl said.

"Unfortunately while I was trying to excite the crowd and encourage employees to give, I made an inappropriate joke. I certainly did not intend to offend anyone and I apologize to everyone, especially the people of Grainger County.

"In no way am I trying to justify what I said, but I'm disappointed that the focus has been placed on me rather than the charities I was there to help. My only hope is that the visibility of this mistake will encourage those who can to give to those in need during these difficult times.''

But Doug McBee, a Grainger County resident and the father of Tennessee freshman guard Skylar McBee, said Pearl should not be misunderstood, according to The Tennessean of Nashville.

"There's no hard feelings at all,'' Doug McBee said, according to The Tennessean. "We are country up here, but we're not prejudice. It was a joke, and that's how I took it.''

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, the population of Grainger County, which is northeast of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee, is 98 percent white. The county's population is 22,333, according to recent census estimates.

Tennessee announced in April that it had renegotiated a six-year contract with Pearl.