All John Rocker had to say was “I imagine public transit in New York would be more than I feel like dealing with and I’d rather not have to put up with the New York lifestyle”. Instead he threw down a rant that was offensive to a lot of people and got him a suspension and an insurmountable pile of negative press. Is John Rocker a bad person? I’ll say no; he’s just a guy with some ideas that are out of the ballpark and likes to run his mouth. He probably thought he was being funny. To me, a 20-something who loves offensive humor, everything but the AIDS comment was legitimately laughable. But, alas, here we are, not everyone wants to hear such rudeness. Speaking of which: did you hear the joke about the deaf kid? Neither did he. That’s about as tame as it gets.
Along with Rocker, we previously covered nine other athletes who had come under scrutiny for offensive comments. For the most part they received some negative press, some miniscule fines, and obviously Rocker’s suspension and chronic disdain from certain fan demographics. Sports commentators have not been treated with such kindness when it has come to controversial statements. These range from the hilarious, to the troubling to the downright unfortunate. Here are ten controversial sports commentator moments. There are quite a few more, so let’s see them in the comments.
10 Jim Rome vs Jim Everett: “Don’t call me that again!”
9 Hannah Storm and Adam Schefter: Eric Mangini Firing
This event drew some negative feedback from fans and other commentators alike. Mangini was dealing with a tough set of circumstances in Cleveland and was not making things better within the time frame he had been given. It’s a very simple equation, when a coach fails to do what he was hired to do, if he is determined to be a negative factor on the team, he is dismissed and replaced. I imagine two sportscasters who high five about such an issue are somewhat unprofessional, but moreover, it’s disrespectful to Mangini. Whether he was a brilliant coach or not, don’t take such revelry in a man losing his job, it’s his livelihood, which has been taken away and maybe it’s not a good time to add insult to injury. Then again, why am I all mopey, I love being insensitive.
8 Chris Berman: STOP MOVING AROUND! HAS NOBODY HERE WORKED IN TV BEFORE?
This wasn’t controversial until it went semi-viral. Chris Berman was upset while on set one day because the people with whom he was working were moving around and causing distractions while they were shooting. He swore a few times and insulted a few people on the set. Other notable examples of such outbursts have been seen from Bill O’Reilly and Christian Bale. Am I the only person who thinks these outbursts are normal? In this instance they were filming a football themed show. Berman is the football expert so he was on camera talking about football. His crew started moving around and after he was done he shouted at them. This sounds reasonable to me. I recognize that it is controversial, but I don’t believe it should be. Nobody is allowed to walk up with a feather and tickle a golfer’s bum while he’s trying to tee off, so it stands to reason that one should not walk around and make noise while the commentator is speaking. Am I off base here?
7 Rob Parker: How Black is RGIII?
This one happened after RGIII commented that he didn’t want to be defined as African American. Doesn’t that just mean: don’t racialize or politicize this, just let me play? Almost sounds like Michael Sam trying to be known as Michael Sam the football player, rather than Michael Sam the homosexual football player. I’m not sure how “blackness” is measured, nor am I familiar with the term “cornball brother.” Parker basically commented that RGIII had a white fiancée and was a Republican, and called into question his “blackness.” Nothing funny here, folks, everybody move along. Rob Parker was suspended for his comments about Robert Griffin III, but after his suspension it was announced that he would not be brought back to ESPN. I don’t know what his intention here was. I’m genuinely unsure whether he was trying to be funny, intentionally controversial or to start a real discussion about the “blackness” of RGIII. No matter what, it sure confused the other analysts and eventually got him canned.
6 Andy Grey and Richard Keys: Female Lines(men) Lines(women)?
At this point in life, I’m more scared of the term: ”replacement refs” than female refs, being a Packers fan. I mean, I’m sure a properly trained female referee could have made a better call than that. Good God, I’ll bet I can wheel an infant onto the field and he could tell the difference between a touchdown and a pick. But back to the matter at hand. Grey and Keys went on a bit of a dual rant regarding an official one afternoon. I will add here, that they were not on air at the time. Rather than simply commenting that a poor call had been made or that the official was bad at her job, they went on an extended tirade about how absurd it was to have a female official on the field. They probably could have gotten away with it had they just made a single comment and moved on…but they didn’t. Grey and Keys were both fired following the incident but were quickly signed to a sports talk show a month later. I wonder if that female official was ever one of their guests?
5 Brian Kinchen: Kind of Gay
This is one where choice of words makes all the difference. Kinchen was talking about football receivers and their catching techniques. His argument was that catching with the body is usually not as reliable as catching with the hands. It’s a good policy. Plenty of catches are caught in the body, but as he says, trying to catch a ball in the chest plate or on part of the shoulder pads will more often end poorly than a ball caught with the hands using good technique and timing. He then briefly mentions that shoulder pads are hard and describes hands as soft and comments on how hands can better caress the ball than shoulder pads. Then the “gay” comment. It’s really just a case of a bad choice of words here. They are expected to talk all the way through the game, and this was a slip up. A better phrase might have been “that’s a girly comment”, oops, now feminists are pissed. Another choice would have been “hey man, cut out the soft and cute comments, I’m trying to watch a game here!” But again, poor choice of words and a comment probably meant as silly banter turns into a minor controversy. Kinchen was suspended for his comments and after his suspension he briefly took time off from commentating.
4 Don Cherry’s Career
This one is just for the hockey fans, and I chose his rant on women at hockey games because its controversial and it's a great example of the kind of back and forth Coach's Corner can degenerate into. Grapes is a great commentator and Coach’s Corner is always an entertaining discussion with his unfortunate counterpart and “stepping off point” Ron MacLean. I’ll come out and say it: I’d vote the guy as Prime Minister a lot quicker than any of the other party “leaders” Canada is currently being offered. I think he’d do a great job, he’d probably toughen up the federal civil service and crack down on spending a lot better than our current group of “representatives.”
Anyway, with regards to his broadcasting career, Don Cherry has come under fire for comments made about women at hockey games, Russians and French Canadians, just to name a few. He seems to thrive on this attention though and keeps making these comments. Some are funny, some are rude, and all are offensive if you want them to be, but none have ever been enough to get him fired. Notice that in the clip, MacLean actually tries to challenge Cherry for a few seconds anyway. This video is from back when he cared.
3 Bryant Gumbel: Winter Olympics and the GOP
This one caused some controversy but I think it is simply brilliant! For those of you outside of the United States, the GOP refers to the “Grand Old Party” which is a colloquial term for the Republican Party in the US. They are sometimes considered the representative party of the rich and white in the country. So essentially Gumbel has called the Winter Olympics a get-together of nothing but white people. Did anybody else catch 5 minutes of Sochi? He’s right. Is it a problem? I don’t think so, it's simply a matter of circumstance. Look at the countries that usually do well in the winter games: Norway, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany, the United States of course along with South Korea and China, who looked impressive on the ice this year, dominating speed-skating. So, most of Europe, North America and a couple of Asian countries. What do these countries have in common? Most of the population is predominantly white. The United States being the obvious exception, along with Canada (but Canada is still roughly 70% white, not a problem or a good thing, merely an observation of fact).
Quite simply, there probably isn’t a great deal of opportunity for Kenyans or Jamaicans to practice their ice dancing. So yes, Bryant Gumbel made a very clever observation that there are many white people at the Winter Olympics and it does look like a GOP convention, except that the Olympians are young and attractive. Again, anyone who is offended, wants to be. Did Gumbel mean to hurt any feelings? Doubtful, I think he was just making a fairly sharp but slightly off-point pseudo-political statement. He received a bit of negative press, but no real repercussions for his comment.
2 Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder: Black Coaches??!!
This video is from 1988 and shows renowned sportscaster Jimmy Snyder ranting about how football should not have black coaches. He argues that black men have taken over every other position on the field and that there needs to be some place that the white man can still contribute, but in a few more words. I’ve always been a “right man for the job” kind of guy and as long as they can win games, then I don’t care what nationality their coach is either. Jimmy “the Greek” was apparently a bit pickier, however, in this clip. Did he mean to hurt offend? Probably not. But still, a poor topic choice and an even poorer choice of words. He was fired by CBS for his comments.
1 Don Imus: Nappy Headed Hoes etc
We all remember this comment, tough girls over at Rutgers, and then that famous phrase that got Don Imus in all sorts of trouble and eventually temporarily taken off the air. His apology was not the most elegant, but what people forget is that Imus was all about controversy, and THIS is what briefly ended his time on the air?? One phrase, said in passing, without a tone of serious prejudice. It was a very poorly phrased statement that the man thought was funny and edgy. But once again, those who wanted to get offended, got offended and Al Sharpton wet himself with excitement when he heard.
Imus wasn’t some volatile, hateful racist and the worst thing you can say is that he was an old guy who made a socially unacceptable joke, thinking it would get a few laughs and gasps from people. But that’s what his entire career has been! He makes fun of EVERYONE. Ethnicities, religions, political views; nothing is sacred, you can either joke about everything, or nothing. I don’t personally find him quite as funny, but his show is sometimes like radio version of a Family Guy episode, in the way he rips everyone. The only difference between him and an uncle who drinks a bit too much scotch at Christmas dinner is that he was on the radio. To paraphrase Bill Maher, one of many funny personalities who defended Imus: the man is a comedian, he made a bad joke, but he’s not a bad person; just a man pushing the lines.
If it seems like I have defended a lot of these sportscasters who have said offensive things on air: that’s because I have. They’re human and they make mistakes. Whether it’s meant as a passing comment or to be a joke, a few of these individuals have been attacked and lampooned over one solitary comment. A single comment does not make a person a racist or a homophobe, it’s the comment, and not the character of the person. A brutal golf shot does not make a man a bad golfer, any more than one offensive comment makes a sportscaster a bad person. They should be reprimanded, and most of them were, but they should not automatically cast them as villains to the worst degree.