Stringer: Rutgers 'in process of forgiving' Imus

Updated: April 14, 2007, 5:55 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- The Rutgers women's basketball team accepted radio host Don Imus' apology Friday for insulting them on the air, saying that he deserves a chance to move on but that they hope the furor his words caused will be a catalyst for change.

Don Imus
AP Photo/David KarpDon Imus, leaving his New York residence Thursday, was fired by CBS from the radio show he hosted for nearly 30 years.

"We, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knight basketball team, accept -- accept -- Mr. Imus' apology, and we are in the process of forgiving," coach C. Vivian Stringer read from a team statement a day after the women met personally with Imus and his wife.

"We still find his statements to be unacceptable, and this is an experience that we will never forget," the statement read.

Several Rutgers players declined to comment on the meeting Friday, but a person who attended the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting, told The Associated Press that emotions ran high, with tears on both sides. Imus did not shed any, but his wife, Deirdre, did, according to the person at the meeting, and she hugged each of the players individually.

Stringer opened the meeting with a statement and was followed by Imus, then by the players and some of the parents, the person said. After the meeting, the team voted on whether or not to accept Imus' apology.

At a news conference later Friday, the Rev. DeForest Soaries, Stringer's pastor, announced a plan to hold a town meeting within 30 days on the Rutgers campus involving educators, entertainers, young people and clergy to address a culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."

"No African-American leader, no national leader should consider this a victory," Soaries said in reference to Imus' firing. "We have to begin working on a reponse to the larger problem."

The team had just played in the NCAA national championship game and lost when Imus, on his April 4 radio show, called the team members "nappy-headed hos." The statement outraged listeners and set off a national debate about taste and tolerance and led to his firing by CBS on Thursday.

"These comments are indicative of greater ills in our culture," the team's statement said Friday. "It is not just Mr. Imus, and we hope that this will be and serve as a catalyst for change. Let us continue to work hard together to make this world a better place."

Imus was in the middle of a two-day radio fundraiser for children's charities when he was dropped by CBS. On Friday, his wife took over and also talked about the meeting with the players.

"They gave us the opportunity to listen to what they had to say and why they're hurting and how awful this is," author Deirdre Imus said.

"He feels awful," she said of her husband. "He asked them, 'I want to know the pain I caused, and I want to know how to fix this and change this.' "

Deirdre Imus also said that the Rutgers players have been receiving hate e-mail, and she demanded that it stop. She told listeners "if you must send e-mail, send it to my husband," not the team.

"I have to say that these women are unbelievably courageous and beautiful women," she said.

Stringer declined to discuss the hate mail Friday. Rutgers team spokeswoman Stacey Brann said the team had received "two or three e-mails" but had also received "over 600 wonderful e-mails."

The team members respected Imus' willingness to apologize, but they also wanted him to understand how they were hurt, said the Rev. DeForest Soaries, Stringer's pastor, who joined the meeting. Imus tried to explain what he meant, "but there was really no explanation that they could understand," Soaries said on NBC's "Today" show.

The cantankerous Imus, once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine and a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was one of radio's original shock jocks.

His career took flight in the 1970s and with a cocaine- and vodka-fueled outrageous humor. After sobering up, he settled into a mix of highbrow talk about politics and culture, with locker room humor sprinkled in.

Critics have said his remark about the Rutgers women was just the latest in a line of objectionable statements by the ringmaster of a show that mixed high-minded talk about politics and culture with crude, locker-room humor.

Imus apologized on the air late last week and also tried to explain himself before the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio audience, appearing alternately contrite and combative. But many of his advertisers still bailed in disgust, particularly after the Rutgers women spoke publicly of their hurt.

On Wednesday, a week after the remark, MSNBC said it would no longer televise the show. CBS fired Imus Thursday from the radio show that he has hosted for nearly 30 years.

"He has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people," CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a memo to his staff.

Sharpton praised Moonves' decision Friday and said it was time to change the culture of publicly degrading other people. "I think we've got to really use this to really stop this across the board," he told CBS's "The Early Show."

Some Imus fans, however, considered the radio host's punishment too harsh.

Mike Francesa, whose WFAN sports show with partner Chris Russo is considered a possible successor in the time slot of "Imus in the Morning," said he was embarrassed by the company. "I'm embarrassed by their decision. It shows, really, the worst lack of taste I've ever seen," he said.

Losing Imus will be a financial hit to CBS Radio, which also suffered when Howard Stern left for satellite radio. The program earns about $15 million in annual revenue for CBS, which owns Imus' home radio station WFAN-AM and manages Westwood One, the company that syndicates the show nationally.

The show's charity fundraiser had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned he had lost his job. The total had grown Friday to more than $2.3 million for Tomorrows Children's Fund, CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch, Deirdre Imus said. The annual event has raised more than $40 million since 1990.

"This may be our last radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million," Don Imus had cracked at the start of the event.

Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour Thursday than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said phone bank supervisor Tony Gonzalez. The event benefited Tomorrows Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.

Imus' troubles have also affected his wife, the founder of a medical center that studies links between cancers and environmental hazards whose book "Green This!" came out this week. Her promotional tour was called off "because of the enormous pressure that Deirdre and her family are under,'' said Simon & Schuster publicist Victoria Meyer.

The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology in Hackensack, N.J., works to identify and control exposures to environmental hazards that may cause adult and childhood cancers. Imus Ranch in New Mexico invites children who have been ill to spend time on a working cattle ranch.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press