- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Rutgers women’s basketball coach urged the nation yesterday to look closely at the players to whom radio host Don Imus referred with a racial slur and see them for the human beings they are.

“These young ladies before you are valedictorians, future doctors, musical prodigies,” coach C. Vivian Stringer told a nationally publicized press conference a day after the uproar over Mr. Imus’ comments led to a two-week suspension of his show.

“These young ladies are the best this nation has to offer, and we are so very fortunate to have them at Rutgers. They are young ladies of class, distinction. They are articulate. They are gifted,” she said.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick also spoke, calling Mr. Imus’ words despicable, unconscionable and deeply hurtful to the players, the students and their families.

“We cannot stand in silence and let these young women be unfairly attacked,” Mr. McCormick said. “They did nothing to invite the words that Don Imus used.”

Mr. Imus started the firestorm after the Rutgers team, which includes eight black women, lost the NCAA women’s championship game to Tennessee. The comment, in which he called the Rutgers players “nappy-headed hos,” struck a chord, in part, because it was aimed at a group of young women at the pinnacle of athletic success.

It also was uttered in a different public atmosphere after incidents in which actors Michael Richards and Mel Gibson used slurs, said Eric Deggans, columnist for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and chairman of the media monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists. The association’s governing board, which doesn’t include Mr. Deggans, wants Mr. Imus fired.

“What I did was make a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context,” Mr. Imus said on his show yesterday, in the final week before his suspension starts.

Asked by NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer whether he could clean up his act as he promised on Monday, he said, “Well, perhaps I can’t.” But he added, “I have a history of keeping my word.”

Mr. Imus said his staff had been trying to set up a meeting with the Rutgers players to apologize, but he said he didn’t expect forgiveness. Of the two-week suspension by MSNBC and CBS Radio, he said: “I think it’s appropriate, and I am going to try to serve it with some dignity.”

MSNBC, which telecasts the radio show, said Mr. Imus’ expressions of regret and embarrassment, coupled with his stated dedication to changing the show’s discourse, made it think suspension was the appropriate response.

“Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word,” the network said late Monday.

Mr. Imus, who has made a career of cranky insults in the morning, was fighting for his job after the comment, which by his own admission went “way too far.”

His job could be in real danger if the outcry causes advertisers to shy away from his show, said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. The National Organization for Women also is seeking Mr. Imus’ ouster.

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