ESPN suspended First Take panelist Rob Parker on Friday following his offensive comments about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III -- another malodorous chapter of a rancid sports television program.
"Rob Parker has been suspended until further notice," a network spokesman said. "We are conducting a full review."
In a discussion of how Griffin views himself within the prism of race following this USA Today piece, Parker, a frequent First Take panelist and recently named as the co-host of a Saturday extension of that show, questioned the quarterback's relationship with African-Americans.
"For me, personally, just me, this throws up a red flag, what I keep hearing," Parker said on a Thursday show which aired on ESPN2. "And I don't know who's asking the questions, but we've heard a couple of times now of a black guy kind of distancing himself away from black people. ...
"But time and time we keep hearing this, so it just makes me wonder deeper about him. And I've talked to some people down in Washington, D.C., friends of mine, who are around and at some of the press conferences, people I've known for a long time. But my question, which is just a straight honest question. Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?"
Parker was then asked to explain what that meant, and he did so, poorly.
"Well, [that] he's black, he kind of does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause, he's not one of us," Parker said. "He's kind of black, but he's not really the guy you'd really want to hang out with, because he's off to do something else."
He was then interrupted by First Take host Cari Champion. Why is that your question, she asked.
"Well, because I want to find out about him," Parker said. "I don't know, because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about he's a Republican, which, there's no information [about that] at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper as to why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like I've got black skin but don't call me black. So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods early on."
You can read the full transcript here, courtesy of Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post.
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Parker's comments came less than 72 hours after ESPN president John Skipper defended the program, arguing that critics are mistakenly applying journalistic standards to a show that is not steeped in journalism.
"It's just another show," Skipper told Sports Business Daily reporter John Ourand. "It's not journalism. Nobody goes, 'Gee, look how awful it is that CBS does these awful reality shows. Doesn't that taint their great news organization?' We have seven networks. There's 8,760 hours per year. We're programming 50-60,000 hours per year. ... But people say, 'Gee, that awful debate that you're doing, how can the great SportsCenter coexist with the debate of First Take. I don't know, how do infomercials coexist with the great journalism they're doing someplace else? We're not a micromanaged place. Jamie Horowitz is the producer of First Take. He's gone in a direction that's working. Ratings are up."
Critics Thursday slammed Parker and the program.
"Just another example of bigotry masquerading as incisive commentary," wrote Tampa Bay Times media critic Eric Deggans, the author of Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.
"The network made a strategic decision to traffic in shrill, sensationalist debate for ratings," said Time Magazine's Sean Gregory. "Someone was bound to say something incredibly stupid."
Said The Big Lead's Ty Duffy: "Once merely a silly annoyance, this show has become repugnant."
Robert Littal of Black Sports Online offered a history of Parker's look-at-me antics over the years.
Notably, ESPN2 re-aired the show on Thursday without cutting Parker's comments. Hours later, after Parker's name had trended in shame on Twitter for hours, and following an endless wave of stories that shredded him, ESPN issued a statement that it was evaluating the situation. (On Friday, ESPN declined to answers specifics as to why the show re-aired, saying it was a conducting a full review of everything.) Griffin responded to Parker's comments by taking the high road. "I'm thankful for a lot of things in life and One of those things is your support," he tweeted. "Thank you."
SI.com spoke to a half-dozen ESPN staffers Thursday, none of whom would go on the record about the Parker incident. But all were dismayed about how First Take too often casts the company's employees under its negative umbrella. Most believed that even with the show's healthy ratings -- the show's first airing at 10:00 a.m. ET has averaged 378,000 viewers this quarter -- ESPN's management was not blind to the cost it brings collaterally. Into this arena stepped Parker, who doesn't have the cachet (or the contract) of his two louder and more famous colleagues, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Following Thursday's show, Parker responded to criticism by telling one person who came his way on Twitter, "Typical silly response. Watch me on First Take tomorrow and Sat.#pleze."
That won't happen as ESPN benched him on Friday for an indeterminate time.
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