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Eagles' Owner Criticizes ESPN

After Limbaugh resigns over comments about Philadelphia's McNabb, Lurie accuses the network of practicing 'institutional racism.'

October 03, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

On the day after Rush Limbaugh resigned as an ESPN football commentator, Philadelphia Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie sharply criticized the network for practicing "institutional racism" for hiring the conservative radio talk show host to boost its ratings.

Lurie also criticized ESPN's new drama "Playmakers," about players in a fictional professional football league, in which a recent episode featured a player using cocaine during halftime of a game.

"There is clearly a problem and the problem doesn't go away with the firing of Rush Limbaugh," Lurie said during a news conference Thursday. "The problem, in my opinion, and I think in many people's opinions, is when you are in the business of hiring people like that or portraying athletes in a primarily African American sport and want to completely disengage from reality in the seeking of ratings, it is a sad story....

"Some of the events of this week, if you think about it, are built with institutional racism. It exists. Let's not hide it. Let's not make believe the problem is a single person, because it is far from that.

"Secondly, Disney's brand name is Mickey Mouse, Magic Kingdom. How would they like it if Minnie Mouse was portrayed as [drug kingpin] Pablo Escobar and the Magic Kingdom as a drug cartel? That is what we're talking about. This is the background here in terms of decisions that are made that allow things like this to happen."

Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for ESPN, said, "We obviously disagree with [Lurie's] comments." The all-sports cable network, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., has no plans to replace Limbaugh.

Limbaugh has denied that his comments Sunday about Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb were racist, but he resigned Wednesday amid a growing outcry for the network to fire him.

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL," Limbaugh said. "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do 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."

The Eagles are 36-22 with McNabb as their starting quarterback, losing in the NFC championship game in each of the last two seasons. McNabb also has been selected to play in the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons.

Limbaugh, who spoke Thursday at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention at Philadelphia, said he was merely expressing an opinion.

"It's something I have believed for quite a while," he told Associated Press. "I don't mean to hurt anybody."

McNabb sought to put the episode behind him.

"I said all I have to on the topic," he said in a statement released by the Eagles. "I spent more time on the subject than I expected to. It's time for me to concentrate on the Redskins and trying to win a football game with my teammates this weekend."

Lurie said he met with NFL officials this week and the league was "very upset by the comments made by ESPN and by 'Playmakers.' " He also said Commissioner Paul Tagliabue telephoned McNabb to offer his support.

"I talked to some owners [Wednesday] and there is a sense of outrage," Lurie said. "The one danger, I think, is to think the problem goes away when you get rid of the person who feathered the words. The problem lies in the hiring of people like that."

Asked whether personalities outside of the NFL should be hired as commentators, Lurie said, "We all had our feelings about Howard Cosell, a lawyer. Howard had his pluses and minuses, but did his homework [while on "Monday Night Football"].... That's not to say Rush Limbaugh could have done a great job. You do know what you are getting when you choose that particular person."

With Limbaugh joining host Chris Berman and former NFL players Tom Jackson and Steve Young, ratings for ESPN's Sunday pregame show rose 10% over last season and by 26% among the coveted male 18- to 34-year-old demographic group. Sunday's program received its highest rating in seven years.

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