Democratic candidates weigh in

Originally Published: October 2, 2003
ESPN.com news services

Rush Limbaugh's comments Sunday on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show regarding Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb have created a firestorm of controversy. And the reaction of many prominent personalities seemed to be one thing:

Fire Rush.

As it turned out, ESPN didn't have the option. Limbaugh resigned late Wednesday night from the Sunday NFL Countdown show. ESPN accepted the resignation.

Prior to the announcement, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark urged ESPN to fire Limbaugh. Clark, a retired Army general who entered the race Sept. 17, called Limbaugh's remarks about McNabb "hateful and ignorant speech."

"There can be no excuse for such statements. Mr. Limbaugh has the right to say whatever he wants, but ABC and ESPN have no obligation to sponsor such hateful and ignorant speech. Mr. Limbaugh should be fired immediately," Clark wrote.

Another Democratic candidate, Howard Dean, echoed Clark's sentiment to fire the conservative talk-show host.

"To imply that the success of African-American is an undeserved gift from a biased media is absurd and offensive," Dean said in a statement.

Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN that 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. "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."

After the reaction surrounding his remarks started to heat up, Limbaugh was asked to appear on ESPN's SportsCenter on Wednesday night but declined. However, on his syndicated radio show Wednesday, he reiterated that he doesn't think McNabb is a bad player, just that he isn't as good as some media members think he is.

"This is such a mountain out of a molehill," he said. "There's no racism here, there's no racist intent whatsoever."

But that only seemed to fan the flames.

NAACP president and CEO Kweisi Mfume suggested that if Limbaugh isn't fired, ESPN should at least provide an opposing point of view during the Sunday Countdown show.

"What's almost as bad as Limbaugh's comments is ESPN's feeble defense for putting him on the air," Mfume said in a statement. "If this is the future of ESPN, I think fair-minded fans, who tune in for sports news coverage, and not for racist views, should get their sports on other networks. It is appalling that ESPN has to go to this extent to try to increase viewership."

The Rev. Al Sharpton has scheduled a news conference Thursday morning in front of ABC headquarters in New York to call for Limbaugh's firing -- and a national boycott of the network this weekend if that move doesn't happen.

"I'm shocked that we're at Wednesday and we have not seen an apology from Mr. Limbaugh," Sharpton said. "We cannot sit back in silence. That would be consent and we would have lost self-respect."

Newsday reporter Herbert Lowe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, compared Limbaugh to Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and Al Campanis in terms of inaccurately linking sports performance and race.

"The sad part is, few people are surprised that Limbaugh made racially inflammatory remarks about McNabb," NABJ vice president-broadcast Barbara Ciara added.

"The larger question is why would ESPN make the decision to put him on the air in the first place," said Ciara, news anchor/managing editor at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. "Limbaugh has no credibility to add his voice to a sports show but has proven he is amply qualified to drop race-baiting comments that help to divide our nation."

Seven African-American quarterbacks started games last weekend. Two others who regularly start, Daunte Culpepper of Minnesota and Michael Vick of Atlanta, were out with injuries.

Culpepper, on his Minnesota radio show, called Limbaugh's comments "stupid. He needs to evaluate his thought process before he says things like that. Donovan's been to two NFC championships."

Grambling State head football coach Doug Williams, the first black to quarterback an NFL team to a Super Bowl win when he was with Washington, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that ESPN knew what it was getting when Limbaugh was asked to join the pregame show.

"You've got to chalk it up to the people who hire Rush," Williams said. "Look at it realistically. They knew what they were hiring. You can paint a zebra, but it's still a zebra. That was an awful thing he said. When Donovan McNabb was playing well, the Philadelphia Eagles were playing well. So goes Donovan McNabb, so go the Eagles.

"So, to make that statement was very, very inaccurate, and wrong. I think Rush Limbaugh's personal feelings came out on that one, and his personal views, which have been his views for a long time. You can't put the fox in the henhouse."

McNabb, the subject of Limbaugh's criticism, was shocked not only by Limbaugh's comments, but that no one on the pregame panel counterattacked.

Among NFL Countdown's commentators are former players Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, both of whom are black.

"I'm not pointing at anyone but someone should have said it," McNabb said of the panelists, who also include former quarterback Steve Young. "I wouldn't have cared if it was the cameraman."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.