Several hours after an ESPN commentator questioned whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is authentically black, ESPN said those comments were out of line.
In a statement released by an ESPN spokesman, the network said, “The comments were inappropriate and we are evaluating our next steps.”
It will be interesting to see what those “next steps” are, and whether they lead to the commentator who made the comments, Rob Parker, to lose his job. When another ESPN commentator, Rush Limbaugh, made racially charged comments about another quarterback, Donovan McNabb, that ended up being the last day that Limbaugh appeared on ESPN’s NFL pregame show.
In Parker’s case, the comments would seem to be even further outside the bounds of what’s acceptable than Limbaugh’s claim that McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to promote a black quarterback. Parker went so far as to say that being engaged to a white woman somehow made Griffin “not really” black. That’s way, way outside the bounds of what’s generally considered an acceptable part of the discourse.
However, ESPN also has to shoulder plenty of the blame for Parker’s comments: The show Parker was appearing on, ESPN First Take, is specifically designed to provoke, and the comments from the show’s panelists, when they don’t flagrantly cross the line, frequently tiptoe right up next to the line. It’s also telling that ESPN later aired Parker’s comments on its Best of First Take afternoon show, suggesting that those are exactly the kinds of provocative comments that ESPN wants on First Take.
Furthermore, Parker’s comments didn’t just surface suddenly during a discussion of Griffin and the Redskins. They were part of a broader segment that began with quotes Griffin gave to USA Today about not wanting to be defined as an African-American quarterback. The producers on First Take surely knew the basic thrust of what Parker was going to say. And they surely knew he was going to say something controversial. And they surely liked that, because First Take is a show designed to draw ratings by stirring controversy.