In 2007, Don Imus was fired from his morning TV/radio talk show because he and his side-kick Bernie McGuirk made some tacky comments about a predominantly black, girls’ basketball team with some tattooed players, suggesting that the girls looked like “nappy-headed ho’s.” When complaints of racism came in, Imus attempted to defuse the situation by describing it as “some idiot comment meant to be amusing.” Later he apologized:
- “I want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game on Tuesday. It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry.”
But the damage was done. First MSNBC cancelled the TV simulcast of the talk show, and shortly thereafter CBS radio cancelled the radio component of the talk show. Imus sued CBS, arguing that their contract called for Imus to be “irreverent” and “controversial,” and therefore he shouldn’t be fired for delivering as promised. Various news reports indicate that the suit was settled by CBS paying Imus many millions of dollars.
After a hiatus of a few months, Imus started working toward his return to the business of TV/radio talk shows. Although he intended to bring back essentially the same team of supporting players, Imus also indicated that he would add “a black comedian to join the show upon its return to help cushion racially insensitive comments he might say on the air.” Tony Powell was eventually selected.
Today’s show revealed the wisdom of adding Powell. The show’s sport reporter, Warner Wolf, played a clip of last night’s star pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Derek Holland, impersonating his manager, Ron Washington, regarding their 9th-inning conversation prior to Washington relieving Holland.
After hearing the clip for about the fourth time during the four-hour show, Imus finally asked Wolf what he found so fascinating about the clip, and Wolf replied that he thought is revealed a fascinating, behind-the-scenes glimpse of what is going on during these tense times.
Imus lamely accepted that response until Tony Powell interjected that perhaps it video was especially funny because Holland’s impersonation of Washington made his manager sound like chicken something. I don’t remember exactly what term Powell used, but it was obvious that the player was making fun of the way his manager talked.
Imus quickly grasped the gist of what Tony Powell was saying and mildly tried to defend Wolf’s clip by saying that impersonations, including those done by Powell and the show’s other comedian, Rob Bartlett, routinely exaggerate a person’s speech pattern. But Imus finished by asking Powell if he was offended by the impersonation. I don’t remember what Powell said, but he is way too much of a team player to throw Warner Wolf under the bus.
Imus followed Powell’s comment with a typically witty Imus response – “More importantly, Tony, should I be offended?” To which Tony said, “I would simply say ‘Let’s move on.” Which is exactly what Imus did.
I have no doubt that Warner Wolf repeated the pitcher Holland impersonation of manager Washington primarily because it made the manager’s way of talking sound funny. But Warner wanted to paint over that aspect of the clip because did not want the exposure associated with making fun of a black person’s accent.
Although that is not Warner’s subject-matter expertise, he needs to think about (be sensitive to) these issues. The Imus show is irreverent, and as the Imus sports reporter, Warner needs to know where the irreverent line is so he doesn’t cross over it.
As Jake Spoon said in Lonesome Dove shortly before being hanged, “I didn’t know that I crossed the line. I never even saw the line.” Well, Imus and Wolf need to thank Tony Richmond for reminding them that there is a line, and they need to think about it from time to time.
P.S., I didn’t expect to find the Powell/Wolf/Imus video, but I did think I could find Holland’s hilarious impersonation of Washington. Unfortunately, I
didn’t. Lo siento.