ESPN has suspended ESPN2 First Take panelist Rob Parker following his offensive comments about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III during last Thursday's show. The network announced the suspension on Thursday afternoon on Front Row, its public relations blog.
"ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday's episode of First Take," wrote Marcia Keegan, a vice president of production for ESPN. "Our review of the preparation for the show and the re-air has established that mistakes both in judgment and communication were made. As a direct result, clearly inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing. Both were errors on our part.
To address this, we have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures. We will continue to discuss important issues in sports on First Take, including race. Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it on First Take. However, we believe what we have learned here and the steps we have taken will help us do all that better."
SI.com requested to speak to Keegan through ESPN PR. The network declined, saying "we are having her statement speak to the issue."
The decision comes in the wake of numerous ESPN employees speaking out about being associated with a program they believe is beneath the network.
"The issue is that it becomes ESPN and not First Take when people weigh in," one longtime ESPN staffer told SI.com last week. "They don't say, 'First Take said this or that.' It's, 'ESPN said this or that.' I don't wish to be lumped in with that nonsense."
"They have created a culture of this," another ESPN employee said. "The fact that they didn't remove it [Parker's comments about Griffin] from the re-air [the show repeats at 12 p.m. ET] proves their intent wasn't to do anything."
Parker apologized in a lengthy Twitter post on Wednesday, six days after his comments. His initial response following the program's air was to chastise those who had criticized him on Twitter.
On Thursday, SI.com emailed the company's PR arm to ask a number of questions including which staffers were leading it, would the executive and coordinating producers for that show be interviewed as part of the review and was there correspondence from First Take producers to Parker after the conclusion of the show about the content, tenor and tone of his Griffin comments? Some of those questions remain unanswered with the statement.
"They brought on Rob for a reason -- he is confrontational," a former ESPN staffer who worked at the network for years told SI.com. "That is his style. They want debate and conflict and that can be a good thing, to force people to look at issues and force people to look at things. I know they get hammered a lot for making everything a racial topic, and sometimes it does go too far, but they do a good job of getting debate out there that people are shying away from because it is uncomfortable."