Nearly a week after questioning whether Robert Griffin III is "a brother or a cornball brother," now-suspended "First Take" commentator Rob Parker has issued an apology for his comments.
"I blew it and I’m sincerely sorry," Parker wrote on Twitter. "I completely understand how the issue of race in sports is a sensitive one and needs to be handled with great care. This past Thursday I failed to do that."
The full text of the apology is below. Like in his original statement, Parker hides under the "everybody else is talking about this, so why not me?" blanket, but at least he does acknowledge that RG3 doesn't deserve scorn, implied or explicit, for living a perfectly normal private life and not living up to some arbitrary definition of African-American "authenticity."
"He's black, but he's not really down with the cause," Parker said at the time. "He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the guy you'd want to hang out with ... I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about he's a Republican."
The fact that it was noted "First Take" screamer Stephen A. Smith who brought an air of common sense to the discussion shows how far off the beam Parker flew: "I'm uncomfortable with where we just went," Smith said immediately after Parker's comments. "RG3, the ethnicity or the color of his fiancée is none of our business, it's irrelevant, he can live his life in whatever way he chooses. The braids that he has in his hair, that's his business, that's his life, he can live his life."
It's worth pointing out that Parker has apparently demonstrated a remarkable change of heart. He retweeted several tweets in support of his statement, and in the wake of Thursday's show he attacked a Twitter critic by saying, "Bet u didn't even see show. Typical and uneducated." (Also of note: ESPN re-aired the "First Take" segment later in the day, indicating that the producers didn't think, or didn't care enough, to edit it out.)
But, hey, we understand; if you say something demonstrably ridiculous and get suspended, you might want to backpedal a fair piece if you value your job. That's how these matters go. Our colleague Doug Farrar already effectively demonstrated that Parker has a habit of slinging outrageous, look-at-me yawps designed to inflame, not enlighten. It's time to widen the spotlight a bit.
Parker isn't acting in a vacuum; his shtick gets play because "First Take" gives it play. And by "distancing" itself from Parker's remarks by putting him on some nebulous "indefinite suspension," ESPN gets to chastise Parker for running his mouth when it created the very conditions and incentive for him to do so. "First Take" is built on manufactured outrageousness, on commentators deliberately playing can-you-top-this with high-volume, low-substance opinion.
The problem for ESPN is, the stench from "First Take" guys like Parker and Skip Bayless lingers over the rest of the four-letter network. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch effectively documented the increasing disgust that other ESPN staffers feel with the circus-like atmosphere — manure and all — of "First Take" and similar debate shows.
"They don't say, '"First Take" said this or that,'" Deitsch quoted one staffer as saying. "It's, 'ESPN said this or that.' I don't wish to be lumped in with that nonsense."
With good reason. Wright Thompson, Liz Merrill and Ryan McGee, to name three of many, write more insightful grocery lists than anything "First Take" produces. Scott Van Pelt and Rachel Nichols prove that it's possible to do television without becoming a caricature. And ESPN's "30 for 30" series is some of the best documentary filmmaking in any genre. All this quality, and the clowns on "First Take" and similar debate shows undermine it with every braying segment. (Consider, for instance: Is Blake Griffin black or white, Stephen A. flicking off Skip, Stephen A. using a certain term for LeBron James ... you get the idea.)
Sports should be about debate; if you love a team or a player enough to root for them, you ought to be able to stand up for them outside the game, too. But there's a line between honest opinion and calculated trolling, and it's not hard to see. ESPN's many fans deserve better than to have low-rent, political-ad-style hackery passed off as informed discussion.
Rob Parker's apology was a good start. His colleagues and superiors ought to follow suit.
Full text of Parker's apology:
I blew it and I’m sincerely sorry. I completely understand how the issue of race in sports is a sensitive one and needs to be handled with great care. This past Thursday I failed to do that. I believe the intended topic is a worthy one. Robert’s thoughts about being an African-American quarterback and the impact of his phenomenal success have been discussed in other media outlets, as well as among sports fans, particularly those in the African-American community. The failure was in how I chose to discuss it on First Take, and in doing so, turned a productive conversation into a negative one. I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN’s reaction. Perhaps most importantly, the attention my words have brought to one of the best and brightest stars in all of sports is an unintended and troubling result. Robert Griffin III is a talented athlete who not only can do great things on the field, but off the field handles himself in a way we are all taught – with dignity, respect and pride. I’ve contacted his agent with hopes of apologizing to Robert directly. As I reflect on this and move forward, I will take the time to consider how I can continue to tackle difficult, important topics in a much more thoughtful manner.