NEW YORK — It took only four weeks for Rush Limbaugh, hired as a panelist for ESPN’s weekly “Sunday NFL Countdown” show, to create a firestorm of controversy that resulted in his resignation from the show Wednesday night.
The right-wing radio pundit got himself into hot water when he said on Sunday’s cablecast that sports reporters have overrated Donovan McNabb, the black quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, precisely because he’s black. “The media have been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,” Limbaugh said, adding that a stingy defensive line has carried the Eagles, not McNabb’s quarterbacking.
As a chorus of protesting voices called for his firing, accusing Limbaugh with being ignorant, bigoted or hateful, the beleaguered pundit submitted his resignation to ESPN. It was immediately accepted.
One of the first high-profile denouncers of Limbaugh on Wednesday was Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who called Limbaugh’s remarks “hateful and ignorant speech.” Clark urged ESPN to fire Limbaugh.
NAACP prexy-CEO Kweisi Mfume used the adjectives “bigoted and ignorant” to describe the Limbaugh comments. Mfume said ESPN should “remove” Limbaugh from the show, or, “at the very least, provide an opposing point of view.”
On his syndicated radio show, Limbaugh said Wednesday that he had “no racist intent whatsoever” in criticizing McNabb’s play.
ESPN acknowledged Limbaugh’s denial but gave him a warning. “We have communicated to Mr. Limbaugh,” ESPN said in a statement, “that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate.”
David Carter, a principal in the L.A. Sports Business Group, detects some hypocrisy in the outcry over Limbaugh’s “politically incorrect” analysis of McNabb’s leadership ability. “I didn’t hear the same people calling for Dusty Baker’s head,” Carter said, “when he suggested a few months ago that blacks and Latinos don’t like to play baseball during the day because they don’t take the heat as well as white players do.” Baker, the African American manager of the Chicago Cubs, was commenting on the desirability of scheduling more night games at Chi’s Wrigley Field.
P.C. or not, Mfume said he was not satisfied with the published comments of ESPN exec veep Mark Shapiro who said, “We brought Rush in for no-holds-barred comment. Early on, he has delivered.”
Calling Shapiro’s statement “a feeble defense,” Mfume said that “fair-minded fans, who tune in for sports-news coverage and not for racist views, should get their sports on other networks.”
The ratings of “Sunday NFL Countdown” had shot up 10% so far this season with Limbaugh added to the mix. Nielsen recorded 2.1 million homes for Sunday’s show; that’s more than any other “Countdown” cablecast in the past six years.