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Limbaugh Resigns From ESPN

He steps down from 'NFL Sunday Countdown' role after furor grows over his comments on Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb.

October 02, 2003|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Rush Limbaugh, embroiled in a growing controversy after making racially tinged remarks about Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb on ESPN's "NFL Sunday Countdown," resigned from the network late Wednesday night.

"My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated," Limbaugh said in a statement released by ESPN. "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."

George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, said, "We accept his resignation and regret the circumstances surrounding this. We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously."

Earlier Wednesday, criticism of Limbaugh was becoming intense. Three Democratic presidential candidates -- Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Al Sharpton -- urged ESPN to fire the politically conservative national radio talk show host.

The furor grew gradually during the week after word spread of what Limbaugh had said Sunday morning.

As ESPN studio analysts Tom Jackson, Michael Irvin and Steve Young were discussing McNabb's poor start to the season, Limbaugh said:

"Sorry to say this, I don't think he has 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, black coaches and black quarterbacks doing 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."

At first, most of the reaction came from Philadelphia, where McNabb is a popular sports figure. The headline on the cover of the Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday read: "FLUSH LIMBAUGH."

By Wednesday, it had become national news. Besides Dean, Clark and Sharpton voicing strong reaction, Jesse Jackson also weighed in, requesting that Michael Eisner, the chairman of ESPN's parent company, Disney, intercede.

Sean Salisbury, who works for ESPN, told The Times, "I'm a former quarterback who is white, and I'm offended."

ESPN hired Limbaugh to stir things up. But this isn't what ESPN had in mind.

Before Limbaugh tendered his resignation, ESPN issued this statement: "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."

What Limbaugh said on his radio show Wednesday was: "All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something. If I wasn't right, there wouldn't be a cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sportswriter community.... This is such a mountain out of a molehill."

Dan Patrick asked Limbaugh to come on the national radio show he does for ESPN. At first Limbaugh was willing to go on the show but was advised not to by ESPN executives.

Salisbury, the former USC and NFL quarterback who was a regular member of the Patrick show before the start of the football season, went on Wednesday's show as a guest and was critical of Limbaugh.

"If he had just criticized McNabb and stopped there, that would have been all right," Salisbury said. "But once he brought race into it, that was ludicrous. This is 2003. What does the color of his skin have to do with anything?"

After the show, Salisbury by phone said, "You'll never hear me refer to a coach or a quarterback as a black coach or a black quarterback. It's irrelevant."

Chris Berman, the host of "NFL Sunday Countdown," said he did not believe Limbaugh's intent was malicious.

"As cut and dried as it seems in print, I didn't think so when it went by my ears," Berman said. "I probably should have looked to soften it."

McNabb, at his weekly news conference with Philadelphia sportswriters, said: "It's pretty heavy. It's something that I've been going through since I was young -- through high school, college and the NFL. You figure that it would be over by now."

Joe Browne, NFL senior vice president of communications, said, "ESPN knew what it was getting when they hired Rush Limbaugh. ESPN selects its on-air talent, not the NFL."

In 1988, the late Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder said in front of a TV camera at a Washington restaurant that the black athlete is superior "because he was bred to be that way." That cost Snyder his job.

Mike Quick, a Philadelphia Eagle radio commentator, told the Philadelphia Daily News, "Jimmy the Greek had his comments that got him ousted, and I think this is worse than that."

*

Times staff writer Sam Farmer and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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