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Profile: John Powers
John Powers was a participant or observer in the following events:
Rush Limbaugh, in a publicity photo from ESPN. [Source: ESPN]Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, a former sports broadcaster recently given a slot as a commentator on National Football League games by ESPN, makes what many believe is a racist comment about black quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb, the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a runner-up for the Most Valuable Player award, and has steered his team into two conference championships. Limbaugh tells his listeners that McNabb is overrated, and adds what ESPN will call “racial overtones that have set off a controversy.” Limbaugh says: “Sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. 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. 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.”
Limbaugh Denies Racial Content; ESPN Defends Remarks - Limbaugh later says that his remarks were not meant to be racist; ESPN states: “Although Mr. Limbaugh today stated that his comments had ‘no racist intent whatsoever,’ we have communicated to Mr. Limbaugh that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate. Throughout his career, he has been consistent in his criticism of the media’s coverage of a myriad of issues.” ESPN vice president Mark Shapiro defends Limbaugh, saying: “This is not a politically motivated comment. This is a sports and media argument. Rush was arguing McNabb is essentially overrated and that his success is more in part [due] to the team assembled around him.” Because of his contractual insistence that he cannot be interviewed, no one from the press is allowed to ask Limbaugh for themselves what he did or did not mean. McNabb tells a Philadelphia reporter: “It’s sad that you’ve got to go to skin color. I thought we were through with that whole deal.” A subsequent ESPN report says that “Limbaugh’s remarks could be considered as untimely as they are thought to be out of bounds.” The report also notes that 10 NFL teams have had black quarterbacks start at least one game this season, and two of the league’s best quarterbacks, Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper, are black. Eagles coach Andy Reid says, “I think the Philadelphia Eagles and the city of Philadelphia are very lucky to have Donovan McNabb.” [ESPN, 10/1/2003]
Controversy over Remarks - Limbaugh’s remarks spark considerable controversy among the sports community and among political pundits, with many defending Limbaugh and others decrying his comments. Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark (D-AK), Howard Dean (D-VT), and Al Sharpton (D-NY) call on ESPN to fire Limbaugh. The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) calls on ESPN to “separate itself” from Limbaugh, with NABJ president Herbert Lowe saying: “ESPN’s credibility as a journalism entity is at stake. It needs to send a clear signal that the subjects of race and equal opportunity are taken seriously at its news outlets.” McNabb adds in a comment to a reporter: “It’s somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him. It’s not something that I can sit here and say won’t bother me.” On his radio show, Limbaugh declares himself “right about something” because otherwise “there wouldn’t be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.” Los Angeles Weekly reporter John Powers notes that Limbaugh’s remarks must be taken in the context of his history of making racially inflammatory comments. Powers notes that if sports commentator Jim Rome made the same remarks, little would have been made of them, because Rome has a history of being “criticized for being too soft on black athletes and callers.” Instead, Powers writes, Limbaugh is “a radio thug who has made his name saying things like, ‘The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.’” Powers asks why Limbaugh would have brought the subject up at all, and answers his own question: “Because it fits Limbaugh’s ideologically charged belief that insidious ‘liberals’—that is, the media and government—keep bending over backward to give African-Americans special treatment that they don’t deserve. (This will come as news to most black Americans, who have a far higher level of poverty than the rest of the country.) We’ve moved beyond the point where big-time media figures will claim that blacks are inferior (and I have no evidence that Limbaugh thinks so). But you can still nab a huge audience by stirring up underlying racial resentments while pretending that you’re actually talking about ‘the media’—which is precisely what Limbaugh did in the McNabb case.… Limbaugh was practicing a kind of second-degree racism—on the carom, so to speak. And when he was called on it—not by his ESPN colleagues, alas—Rush beat a gutless retreat back to the bully’s pulpit of his radio show, where he can insist that widespread revulsion at his words proves they’re actually true (what reasoning!) and if anyone disagrees, he can just cut them off.” [ESPN, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Weekly, 10/9/2003]
Limbaugh Resigns ESPN Position - Limbaugh resigns his position with ESPN on October 2. In a statement, he says: “My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated. I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret. I love NFL Sunday Countdown and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it. Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen.” ESPN president George Bodenheimer calls Limbaugh’s resignation “appropriate.” [ESPN, 10/2/2003]
Entity Tags: George Bodenheimer, Wesley Clark, ESPN, Daunte Culpepper, Andy Reid, Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, Philadelphia Eagles, National Football League, National Association of Black Journalists, John Powers, Jim Rome, Donovan McNabb, Howard Dean, Mark Shapiro, Michael Vick, Herbert Lowe
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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