ESPN has announced that Rob Parker will be allowed to return to the air after a 30-day suspension for questioning whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is authentically black because, among other things, Griffin has a white fiancee.
Marcia Keegan, a Vice President of Production for ESPN, released a statement announcing the duration of Parker’s suspension and vowing that ESPN will take greater care in the way its debates on the show Parker appears on, First Take, are presented going forward.
“ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday’s episode of First Take,” Keegan said. “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.”
ESPN did not specify what the “appropriate disciplinary measures” were for people other than Parker, or who “the personnel responsible” were other than Parker. But Parker’s suspension is, frankly, ridiculous when compared to other discipline that ESPN has handed out to other employees.
Most notably, a 30-day suspension is the same punishment ESPN gave SportsCenter anchor Max Bretos for asking an NBA analyst this question about Jeremy Lin: “If there’s a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?”
That may have been an unfortunate choice of words, but no one seriously believed that Bretos was attempting to use a racial slur in that question. People who know Bretos, including his Asian-American SportsCenter co-anchor Michael Kim, insisted that Bretos (whose wife is Asian) is a good man who has far too much respect for his audience and the athletes he covers to dream of using a racial slur on the air.
Parker, on the other hand, is widely known as a provocateur who would rather engage in personal attacks than honest debate. Before ESPN hired Parker, he had twice been disciplined by his previous employer, the Detroit News: Once for asking former Lions coach Rod Marinelli an insensitive question about his daughter’s marriage to the Lions’ then-defensive coordinator, and once for erroneously reporting that then-Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins (now Griffin’s backup on the Redskins) had assaulted someone on campus.
Think about what ESPN is doing by giving Parker and Bretos equivalent punishments. ESPN is saying that opposing interracial marriage is no worse than making an unfortunate slip of the tongue. ESPN is saying that Parker, who worked his way up to a job at ESPN by doing everything the wrong way in journalism, deserves no more punishment for a blatantly racist statement than Bretos, who worked his way up to a job at ESPN by being a consummate professional, deserves for an innocent mistake. (It’s also worth noting that when Bretos was alerted to the fact that some people were offended by his word choice, he profusely apologized. When people told Parker on Twitter that they were offended by his racist comments about Griffin, Parker told those people they were “uneducated” and “silly.”)
None of that matters to ESPN, however, because First Take gets pretty good ratings on weekday mornings, and the show garners attention by putting panelists on the air to make outrageous statements. ESPN covets those ratings enough that it’s willing to do anything for them. Even put a panelist on the air who will attack a black man for falling in love with a white woman.