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April 5, 2024 39 mins

Long before Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese were shattering records and making national headlines, there was the 2007 Rutgers team. The New Jersey players had a Cinderella season, powering their way to the Final Four in an extraordinary triumph. But instead of being celebrated, the young women were attacked – dismissed and belittled in an infamous on-air slur by the popular radio host Don Imus. In this episode, Susie and Jess revisit the moment which sparked a national firestorm – and a much-needed conversation about racism, sexism and women’s sports. They also welcome two women who were there: former Rutgers captain and WNBA star Essence Carson, and the journalist Jemele Hill, who reported on the story in real time.

GUESTS: 

  • Essence Carson, former WNBA star, Rutgers captain and current creative executive
  • Jemele Hill, Emmy award-winning journalist

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Hey everyone, Just a note that we discuss offensive, racist,
and sexist language in this episode. In two thousand and seven,
the Rutgers College women's basketball team had a Cinderella season.
Despite a rocky start and relative inexperience, they fought their
way to the final four.

Speaker 2 (00:20):
Have to be so impressed with what Rutgers has done.
It was tournament they have just been sent.

Speaker 1 (00:27):
Ultimately, they would lose the championship game to a powerhouse
Tennessee team, but the Rutgers women had still achieved the unthinkable.

Speaker 3 (00:35):
When we returned to New Jersey, it was almost as
if we won. Our fans were so supportive, they were
so welcoming.

Speaker 1 (00:48):
And then the morning after the game, a hugely popular
shock jocks named Don Imuss got on the air.

Speaker 4 (00:56):
So I watched the basketball game last night between a
little bit Rutgers in Tennessee the women's final.

Speaker 1 (01:03):
And with a string of racist and sexist comments about
the predominantly black team, I mis diminished their remarkable achievement
and threw them into a national firestorm. I'm Susie Bannacharum
and I'm Jessica Bennett, and this is in retrospect, where
each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past

(01:24):
that shaped us.

Speaker 5 (01:26):
And that we just can't stop thinking about today.

Speaker 1 (01:28):
We're talking about a college basketball team that was thrown
into the national spotlight against their will, but we are
also talking about who is allowed to respond in anger
when they are publicly targeted, and who gets centered when
these stories get told. This is part one. Jess, do
you remember this story? Do you remember when this all happened?

Speaker 5 (01:49):
Yeah? I actually have quite a vivid memory of it
because I was in Newsweek at the time as a
young reporter, and Newsweek, who would do the story of
the week every week on the cover of their magazine,
put this on the cover. I remember the headline was
race power in the Media, and it had an image
of the basketball team against I Miss, looking sort of

(02:10):
stern and forlorn, and it was a huge deal.

Speaker 2 (02:14):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (02:15):
I was at ABC when this happened, and it was
kind of an unavoidable story for a few weeks, right.
It just completely dominated national headlines, so much so that
I think there was a poll at the time where
people said they felt like it was getting too much coverage,
which is something we experienced a lot in media. I
think stories become red hot, and then they're sort of
obsessed over and then people kind of move on.

Speaker 5 (02:37):
And it's interesting too because I guess don I Miss
was huge, That's what I learned when this story came out.
But I had never heard of him, Like, I don't
know if that was kind of an elite East Coast
thing to know about him, or maybe I wasn't running
in those circles. I remember he didn't. He famously wear cowwabs.
He had this essence to him. He was hugely popular,

(02:58):
but I at the time was like, who the hell is?

Speaker 1 (03:00):
Yeah, weren't his demographic And I think also just we
didn't commute to work in a car, so we weren't
as likely to be into talk radio, right.

Speaker 5 (03:08):
Well, okay, and so I remember him being a shock dooc.
I remember this story was a huge deal, but I
don't really understand sports.

Speaker 2 (03:17):
I'm not a big sports person either, as you know.

Speaker 5 (03:19):
Yeah, I understand them enough, but I'm not a huge
sports person either. And so what exactly does he say?
And why?

Speaker 1 (03:26):
So we didn't play the don Imus comments in the
introduction because I have to say they're quite jarring. I
remember hearing them all the time when it happened, but
for some reason, going back and listening to them again
feels really strange. They're so offensive. And I'm going to
play them for you now because I do think it's

(03:46):
important to hear them for yourself. But let me give
you a little context. The Rutgers women's basketball team has
made it to the Final Four. They've had this crazy
season where they were not expected to be a powerhouse team.
They are having this amazing moment. And the next morning,
don Imus gets on his radio show that he does

(04:09):
every morning.

Speaker 5 (04:10):
Wait and quickly, how many people are tuning in too,
iMOS at this point?

Speaker 3 (04:14):
Oh?

Speaker 2 (04:14):
Millions.

Speaker 1 (04:15):
He has millions of daily listeners across the country. He's
available on more than seventy stations, and in addition to that,
his show is actually simulcast on cable on MSNBC. So
he wasn't just a radio show. He was also a
morning show on television where they literally just filmed him
and his crew at the MIC's in the studio.

Speaker 5 (04:33):
Oh okay, just talking. It's like very early podcast.

Speaker 1 (04:36):
Yeah, very early podcast. And roughly an additional three hundred
thousand people are watching on TV right. It's a sizeable audience,
and he has a lot of influence.

Speaker 5 (04:46):
Okay, so back to the comments.

Speaker 1 (04:47):
Yeah, so the comments come on April fourth, two thousand
and seven, the same day the team has returned home
from the championship game and at the end of this
historic season, and don Imus has this exchange with his
executive producer on the show.

Speaker 4 (05:03):
So, I watched the basketball game last night between a
little bit of Rutgers in Tennessee, that women's final. Awesome
rough girls, some Rutgers man, they got tattoos, and some
hardcore hos.

Speaker 2 (05:15):
That's a nappy.

Speaker 4 (05:15):
Headed dolls there.

Speaker 5 (05:16):
I'm gonna tell you that, Jesus. It's like, you know
how they talk about bystander intervention. It's like, these are
these guys who are just like egging each other on,
and there's no sand person in the room to be
like whoa hey, Like it's not funny, and what you're
saying is deeply offensive.

Speaker 2 (05:33):
Yeah, it's just disgusting.

Speaker 1 (05:34):
And there's something so stark about how casually he's talking
about this group of college girls. And also something that
really bothers me about it is the way they're giggling,
like they just love how funny they're being.

Speaker 2 (05:47):
Right. The other thing I think is interesting is that
he often would say, don I miss that it was
like a locker room.

Speaker 5 (05:53):
He would say that his show was like a locker room.

Speaker 2 (05:56):
Yeah, like this is a locker room.

Speaker 5 (05:57):
Oh wow, that is much more meaningful now and the
Trump era, Yes.

Speaker 1 (06:02):
It makes me think of that whole thing when Donald
Trump was like, oh, I said I grabbed women by
the pussy, and it was just locker room top.

Speaker 5 (06:08):
Locker room talk. So this is don Iamss's personal locker room.

Speaker 1 (06:12):
And I think that's what's hard to listen to here,
the idea that this is just what a group of
white men say to each other when they think no
one's listening.

Speaker 2 (06:23):
Or except.

Speaker 1 (06:26):
Right, like, they felt comfortable saying this. They did not
feel like this was wrong in any way. They don't
seem even a little hesitant about it.

Speaker 5 (06:36):
And you actually cut some of this. This isn't even
the full clip.

Speaker 2 (06:40):
Correct. Yes, there's a longer version of this.

Speaker 1 (06:42):
We did not include all of it because everything they
say is really offensive. And the part that really got
the most attention at the time was when and I
just want to say, even repeating this makes me uncomfortable,
but when he called them nappy headed.

Speaker 5 (06:58):
Hose right, I remember that as being the headline.

Speaker 1 (07:01):
Yeah, and that's a really complicated insult. We'll get into
why that has cultural and racial underpinnings that make it
even more offensive than you might initially realize. But again,
these are kids, these are girls, and he's calling them horse.

Speaker 5 (07:27):
This is the kind of trash that don iMOS was
known for. Correct. But who was iMOS? Can you tell
me more about him?

Speaker 2 (07:35):
Yeah? So he was kind of an odd character.

Speaker 1 (07:37):
He was this really tall, lanky man who always wore
a cowboy hat and he carried a gun for protection.
He had this very famous ranch in New Mexico he
would go to a lot of the time when he
wasn't recording, and in the eighties he actually had a
pretty serious alcohol and cocaine problem and admitted later that

(07:58):
he was often drunk or hot during the show. So
even though he was really popular, he was very erratic,
Like he missed one hundred days of work in one year.
He would sleep on park benches, he would show up barefoot.
But he was the number one DJ in the country,
so he got away with a lot of that, and
then eventually they had to cut him loose and he

(08:22):
cleaned up his act and he went and did a
radio show somewhere else in the country and eventually made
his way back to New York. So he wasn't under
the influence when he made these comments, and he had
at this stage established himself as a very mainstream figure
in politics and journalism despite this crazy past.

Speaker 5 (08:47):
I'm assuming he was a conservative.

Speaker 1 (08:49):
No, actually he wasn't conservative. In fact, he had endorsed
Bill Clinton in his first run. So what's interesting is
he was kind of equal opportunity. He to stand all
politicians and railed against them and said they were all phonies.
But he did occasionally endorse some and Bill Clinton was
one of those. But what's interesting is that the audience
was most likely Republican and conservative, because Republicans and conservatives

(09:12):
were about twice as likely to listen to talk radio
at that time. And I think the thing about Don
Imus is his audience was very varied, meaning a lot
of Washington elites listened to him, and also just random
Joe blow in the country.

Speaker 2 (09:29):
But his famis was very attached to him.

Speaker 1 (09:31):
I think partially because he was on the air for
so many hours it felt like you were kind of
part of this party.

Speaker 2 (09:37):
I guess for lack of locker room, this locker room,
lock this locker room. Okay.

Speaker 5 (09:42):
And so Imus was considered a shock jock, which sounds
very like eighties when we say it. Now, what does
that mean exactly, other than like doing wild antics?

Speaker 4 (09:53):
I think's original old timer crazy.

Speaker 2 (10:01):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (10:01):
So this was a term that was first used in
the eighties. It's essentially a radio personality who is deliberately
provocative and inflammatory and says really offensive things. So that
was kind of Imish's shtick anyway, But it was a
term most associated with Howard Stern. I don't know if
you know Howard Stern. He's a radio personality. He's still

(10:22):
on the air now, and he's the person who gave
rise to the concept.

Speaker 5 (10:28):
Oh, he's the original shockjock.

Speaker 1 (10:30):
He's not the original shockjock, but he's the one most
people think of when you say the word.

Speaker 5 (10:34):
Okay, I'm looking at examples of what shockjocks are, like
attempting to sneak toy weapons onto a plane at an airport,
blocking off traffic lands in San Francisco during rush hour
while his sidekit got a haircut. I don't know what
the point of that would be. I do remember Howard
Stern always doing like creepy, gross sex things like having

(10:55):
women mud russel or other. But I guess I just
didn't realize they were like just doing dumb shit.

Speaker 1 (11:03):
I mean, it was incredibly juvenile, right, It was just silly.
But occasionally, because there was this undercurrent of sexism and
racism in a lot of these environments, sometimes the jokes
crossed the line into things that were pretty unpleasant. Most
shock docs didn't have the kind of platform. I missed it, right,
I miss went from being this kind of thing, right,

(11:26):
this kind of jokester who was just calling a politician
to ask if he wanted to join show biz, or
calling a phone operator and asking her if she wanted
to mess around. He went from that to being a
more national figure because he actually was kind of intellectual.
So he started to ask people whose books he read

(11:47):
and whose ideas he was interested in to join the show,
and over time that became a really big part of
the show. So Bill Clinton, who I mentioned he endorsed,
appeared on his show regularly during his presidential campaign. Senators
regularly appeared on the show, and Joe Biden was one
of those senators. John McCain, John Kerry, and really famous

(12:08):
journalists at the time Tim Russert, who was the host
of Meet the Press for a long time at com Brokaw,
who was very famous Blake. It was a commonplace to
go for journalists who wanted to mix it up and
show that they weren't as stiff or stayed as they
appeared on the air. And interestingly, Barack Obama had once
been on the show.

Speaker 2 (12:26):
And I think that just was because he had a
lot of power. Right.

Speaker 1 (12:29):
He was on the air for many hours a day,
five days a week, and as I said, millions and
millions of people were watching, and his influence was very broad.
He was reportedly making almost ten million dollars a year
when this happened, which sounds like a lot, but his
employers at CBS were actually making fifty million dollars a

(12:52):
year office show, So he had the kind of power
you have for making that kind of money also.

Speaker 5 (12:58):
Right, I imagine even someone like Charlotte Mane mcgod or
Joe Rogan would probably be the modern equivalent of that.

Speaker 1 (13:05):
Right, Yes, probably the closest thing we have. But to
be honest, it's just not the same, right because you
still make the choice to listen to those guys in
a way that if they were on your radio for
four hours a day, or on national times and four
hours a day.

Speaker 5 (13:17):
And you didn't have another option, and you.

Speaker 1 (13:19):
Didn't have as many options as we do now, you
would just happen upon them a lot. And because there's
no obvious modern equivalent, I actually called Jamel Hill, who
you and I both know. She's an Emmy Award winning
sports journalist who in two thousand and seven was actually
an ESPN columnist, and she covered this story as it unfolded.

Speaker 6 (13:38):
Don Imus at the time was considered to be probably
the most powerful radio personality in America. He had an enormous,
massive platform. So if he says something on that show,
it's not hitting with a whisper, it's hitting like a thunderclap.

Speaker 5 (13:54):
Oh, that's like the perfect quote. It's just making me
think back to this team. They're basically kids, they're out
of school like Ruckers. That's not necessarily a national brand.
They're not in the spolt in that way. And then
suddenly like bam, this guy is weighing in on them
and it's reaching a million listeners.

Speaker 2 (14:14):
Yeah, and Jamal talked about that too.

Speaker 6 (14:16):
These women had just played on the biggest stage in
their sport. They had a phenomenal season, they were led
by an incredible coach, and so in that moment, even
with the disappointment of losing in the final four, it
was still very much a celebratory achievement for him. And
just upon hearing those comments and to see how it

(14:39):
went from people celebrating them to them just being degraded
in the next moment, it was disheartening, to say the least.
I just really felt for those young people because they
had achieved something really, really spectacular, and it just felt
like the moment was stolen from them.

Speaker 1 (14:57):
You know, in a lot of ways, what Javelle is
saying is I wanted to look back at this, this
idea of having the moment stolen from them, because obviously
we were both working in news when this happened. But
I remember, even at the time, it really struck me
how young the team was. You know, it was five freshmen,
so we're talking about genuinely eighteen and nineteen year old girls,

(15:20):
and as I said, they were a majority black team,
and these comments just felt so cruel and ugly at
the time, and the headlines were so intense, right it
was as if they went from the end of their
season where they should have just been able to enjoy
that and chill and finally have a moment to reflect

(15:41):
to being in the hottest spotlight you could possibly be
put under.

Speaker 5 (15:46):
Right, and the hottest news story of that moment.

Speaker 1 (15:48):
And you and I know that when you get thrust
into these really hot spotlights we've worked on these kinds
of stories, right, it can feel like it obliterates everything
else in your life and that you're just come completely
taking it in from all sides, trying to figure out
how to navigate it. So I really wanted to understand
that part of the story better, and I reached out
to Essen's Carson, who is a WNBA superstar. She played

(16:13):
for the New York Liberty among others, and is now
a creative executive. But most relevant for this, she was
the captain of the two thousand and seven Rutgers women's
basketball team.

Speaker 5 (16:41):
I just want to know that Essence Carson is like
a really big deal. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (16:45):
I mean, she's obviously had this amazing career and been
able to put this in her rearview mirror. She doesn't
actually talk about this very often for obvious reasons. So
I was really grateful that she agreed to talk to me,
and she said, to really understand how deeply these comments
cut at the time, you have to go back and
understand what the team had gone through just to get
to the championships.

Speaker 3 (17:05):
Just that group that was at Rutgers in two thousand
and seven, it was a very unique group. We all
come from all walks of life, but we all bought
into the idea of that championship and how we weren't
going to allow the lack of experience be the one
sole thing that keeps us away from that.

Speaker 5 (17:25):
You've mentioned this a couple of times too, that they
were inexperienced.

Speaker 1 (17:28):
Yeah, the Rutgers team went into the season as underdogs
because they were a very young team. There were no seniors.
They had lost a lot of their really strong players
that year before, so it was mostly made up of
recent high school graduates now starting at the college level.
So the beginning of the season was rough. They were
losing games. There was a game early on that they

(17:49):
lost by forty points at home. That was pretty much
unheard of at Rutgers.

Speaker 3 (17:54):
It was a tough toll to swallow. It's embarrassing. No
true competitor, everyone wants to lose in that but it
happened all right, and you know that was that was
the beginning of you know, the wake up call.

Speaker 5 (18:08):
Okay, wow, so things were going really poorly, but then
they turn it around. What does that?

Speaker 2 (18:14):
Honestly, it seems like it was just sheer grit.

Speaker 1 (18:16):
They had an amazing coach, this Hall of fame coach,
Vivian Stringer, who is very famous in women's college basketball,
and essence told me that she very aggressively pushed them
to get their act together, and they did really coming
together as a team.

Speaker 3 (18:29):
The world in the beginning was a bit bumpy, but
what truly makes a great team is how you overcome adversity.
And after overcoming a slow start, we were able to
regroup and figure things out, leading us to a Biggia's
championship and onto our historic run in the NCAA tournament.

Speaker 2 (18:49):
Will you tell me what it felt like going back
when you won that last game that meant you were
going to the final four, and just did that feel amazing?
I just I can't imagine what that felt like.

Speaker 3 (18:58):
I'm not sure if there are any words to describe
that feeling. It's imagine losing everything and getting it back
and at that time winning it all. You know, when
you're looking at the Big East Tournament, you know that
was just one step, and then it's like, oh, we
can keep going, we can keep this thing going. There
were just truly no words that can explain that. It

(19:21):
was an unreal ride.

Speaker 2 (19:23):
For sure.

Speaker 5 (19:24):
Oh that's interesting. I really hadn't realized how up and
down the season had been for them.

Speaker 1 (19:29):
Yeah, it really had been a wild season. But sadly,
like all good things, it does come to an end. So,
as I said in the introduction, they go up against
this powerful, top seeded team in Tennessee for the championship
and they lose, but there's still a lot to celebrate.

Speaker 3 (19:44):
It was definitely bittersweet. Of course, there were tears shed
in the locker room after that loss, because it's like, oh,
you were so close. You almost completed the Cinderella story.
You were so close. Of course, those feelings set in,
but in the same we were reminded that what we
had done was amazing. When we returned to New Jersey,

(20:06):
it was almost as if we won. Our fans were
so supportive, they were so welcoming. The fanfare was amazing.
Even the people at the airport, the firefighters, everyone the
entire state of New Jersey was so proud of us.
It was like they went on that ride with us,
you know, it was like they climbed from the bottom

(20:27):
with us. They wanted to remind us that, hey, good job.

Speaker 5 (20:33):
I love hearing her describe how they arrived home to
this kind of heroes welcome. But at what point then
did they actually hear about these comments?

Speaker 2 (20:41):
So Essen said she first heard about the comments right
after they had a.

Speaker 3 (20:46):
PEP rally, immediately after it concluded. It was almost like
it was still going on a bit, and I don't
remember what we had to do next, because this moment
actually kind of just took over everything. I remember coming
down and we were on the court and our sid
at that time, Stacy Brand, she would handle like the

(21:07):
publicity to media requests for the team. She came to
me and asked me, did I hear what was said
or what happened? And I had no clue what she
was talking about. And then she gave me, you know
what happened, blow by blow and even had the transcript,
and I was blown away by what was said, mainly

(21:29):
because I couldn't fathom anyone being able to say things
of that sort live on air. Although I was no
stranger to racism and the nuances of it, I didn't
necessarily think it would be possible, and especially you know,
towards a group of young women and like ourselves.

Speaker 1 (21:47):
Had you heard of Don Aimas when this happened. Did
you know who he was?

Speaker 3 (21:51):
No? No, But I also don't think I was just demographic.

Speaker 2 (21:56):
Do you remember when you actually heard it for the
first time.

Speaker 3 (21:58):
I think I heard snippets at first. It was being
played everywhere, so you would hear snippets even if you
didn't want to encounter, and you kind of just did.

Speaker 5 (22:10):
It's maybe hard to remember now because we don't have
radios and televisions on all the time and we're always
on our phones, but to describe just how saturated the
news was with what she is talking about, like truly,
I remember it was on every cable news channel, It
was playing on the radio at all times. It was
on the cover of the weekly magazines, It was in

(22:32):
the paper, and every single article was repeating the comments
over and over and over again. So you can just
imagine they get home and suddenly they are just hid
in the face with this statement.

Speaker 1 (22:43):
Yeah, that really struck me too, because it's just this
idea that even if they had wanted to get away
from it, they didn't have that choice. Initially, they tried
to ignore his comments. They chose to go home early.
It was Easter, so they went home to spend Easter
with their families. But they were being bombarded with requests
for comment, and also just every time they turned on
a TV or walked into a store where the radio

(23:03):
was on, it was just being played everywhere.

Speaker 5 (23:06):
I imagine too, the reporters are like camping out at
the school trying to get statements like it probably was
a very tabloid esque situation.

Speaker 1 (23:15):
Yeah, she said they were being accosted even when they
were just like trying to go to class or go
to the cafeteria. Okay, but they were trying to see
how the story played out before they decided what to do,
and the story just kept growing. What's interesting about this
is that it was an early example of something going viral, right,
Like you can imagine if this happened today, it would
be all over TikTok and Twitter immediately, But back then

(23:39):
that's not really how a story grew.

Speaker 5 (23:41):
Do we know how it initially took off? Who noticed
that this had occurred, and how did it spiral from there?

Speaker 1 (23:48):
It was actually a guy at Media Matters, which is
a left leaning media group, who flagged the clip. He
had gotten a tip and he dug it up and
he sent it around to their newsletter and then it
was stood on YouTube. And YouTube had launched in two
thousand and five, so it had just pretty recently become
really huge. And for context, in one of the articles
I read, they mentioned that it was such a huge

(24:10):
story that this YouTube video had gotten a million hits,
which is a lot of hits, but today it would
get like ten million hits, right, right, so this might
have been like missed or ignored.

Speaker 5 (24:22):
That's so interesting because had this happened even a few
years before, Yes, he's got this huge following on radio,
but like a thing happens on radio and then it's over,
you're not recording the clip and sending it around, right
like you're not with the call set tape r exactly,
So like maybe some people would have been offended, but
it would have just disappeared.

Speaker 1 (24:39):
Yeah, and that's the world. Don I miss really knew? Right,
He'd been a radio host for a long time pre internet,
so when the Internet changed the landscape. I think it
was a real shift for him, and this was the
first time he really came to understand that. And CBS
and MSNBC, who were his employers, CBS ran his radio
show and MSNBC simulcasted on the air. I think they

(25:00):
were both waiting to see if this would blow over
like the other things he had said, because he did
have a history of saying really awful things.

Speaker 5 (25:08):
I guess I'm asking you to repeat all the awful things,
but what are what are some of the awful things?
Can you say the ones that aren't that of what
are the ones you say?

Speaker 1 (25:17):
I mean, I can say them carefully, And yes, he
and his merry band of idiots just had this horrible
history of saying controversial or offensive things. And I literally
cannot go over all of them because there's so many
racists and sexist and anti Semitic and homophobic things. I mean,
islahob Yeah, they checked all the boxes every day as

(25:39):
far as I can tell. But the one that really
stood out to me is that after the Rutger slurs, Gweneiffel,
who was this groundbreaking and widely admired journalist and relevant
for this conversation. A black woman wrote an op ed
for The New York Times about how I Miss had
once said about her when she was a reporter for
the Time. Isn't the Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning

(26:02):
lady cover the White House? Oh wow, right, it's just disgusting.

Speaker 5 (26:08):
He said that to her face.

Speaker 2 (26:10):
No, he just said it on the air about her.

Speaker 5 (26:11):
He said it on the air. Oh my god.

Speaker 1 (26:13):
Yeah, he said it on the air about her. And
she said she suspected it was because he had once
or twice asked her to be on the air and
she just hadn't had time to go on, so he
had held this grudge against her. But it's just a
really terrible way to talk about someone. And you know,
I mentioned Howard Stern. Interestingly, Howard Stern and Don Imus
did work together briefly in the eighties and then became

(26:34):
bitter rivals. They hated each other for the rest of
their careers, and despite his own history of controversy, Howard
Stern came forward during this time and said that when
they had worked together in the eighties, he had heard
I Miss call a black female coworker the N word,
and Robin Quivers, who was one of Stern's co hosts

(26:55):
said that he had also called her the N word
to her face when they were working with him. Oh wow, okay,
and just to put a cap on that, I miss
had also called Howard Stern a jew bastard on the
air in nineteen eighty four and suggested he should be
put in an oven.

Speaker 5 (27:12):
Wow. What is mind boggling to me is that this
is a man saying these things who then turns around
and has all of these really prestigious people on his show.

Speaker 2 (27:24):
Right.

Speaker 1 (27:24):
I mean, Howard Stern was also controversial, but he didn't
have Senator Biden and mckayn on his show, so I
think he just didn't reach this level of scrutiny. Another
example that comes out after all this is that in
nineteen ninety eight, when Don Imss was doing an interview
for sixty minutes, he told one of the producers off
camera that his executive producer was hired to perform nward jokes.

(27:49):
And to be clear, he didn't say the N word.
He said the word.

Speaker 5 (27:52):
None of these cases he's saying.

Speaker 2 (27:55):
And worright right, he's saying the word.

Speaker 5 (27:57):
What does that even mean?

Speaker 1 (27:59):
What it means is that he want someone making those jokes,
and so he hired this man to be the racist
on the show so he could be a little less racist.

Speaker 2 (28:08):
I guess.

Speaker 5 (28:09):
Honestly, it's shocking that he was still in the air.

Speaker 1 (28:11):
Yeah, I mean, two thousand and seven doesn't feel like
that long ago. So it is shocking that he had
gotten away with this blatant bigotree for so long. But
the Internet wasn't the same, you know, as it is now,
and don Imus wasn't used to being held accountable. So,
you know, initially, in the day after he makes the comments,
he goes on the air and he says he's heard
a few people are upset, but basically everyone needs to

(28:34):
calm down because it's just an idiot comment that was
meant to be amusing. But pretty quickly it becomes clear
that this time is going to be very different for
don Imus.

Speaker 5 (28:55):
Susie. Before the break, you were giving us a rundown
of some of the terrible things that has said about
various people, But the comments he made about the Rutgers
women's basketball team really weren't blowing over. So what happened next.

Speaker 1 (29:08):
Actually, Jamel Hill, who as I mentioned, was a columnist
at ESPN at this time played a role in making
sure the comments were heard pretty broadly.

Speaker 6 (29:18):
It struck me because of his having that kind of
platform and for a lot of his listeners who maybe
have never heard about this team or didn't know anything
about them, and the very first thing that they hear
about is them being called nappyheaded.

Speaker 3 (29:33):
Ohs.

Speaker 6 (29:33):
He ridiculed them, he demeaned them, he denigrated him. And
as a black woman in sports myself during that time,
all of those things resonated deeply inside of me, and
so I felt like I had to speak out about
it and make it known that this crossed so many
lines for so many different reasons, from a gender perspective,
a racial perspective, and I thought it would be a

(29:56):
disservice for somebody not to stand up for those women.

Speaker 5 (30:00):
That's so interesting what she's saying in terms of all
the different ways that across these lines. How does Jamel
make sure that the story gets national attention.

Speaker 1 (30:08):
Well, what happens is the day after the comments, Jammel
hears them and sends them to the email list for
the National Association of Black Journalists, and then they become
really widely circulated among black journalists in general, and by
the next day, the NABJ issues a statement saying that

(30:28):
they are outraged and disgusted and they demand an apology,
but also they call for him to be immediately fired.

Speaker 5 (30:37):
That's so interesting too, because with so many of these
stories like this, it takes someone in some position of
power to really raise the alarm on it. And so
having someone like Jammel in a position of power who
can then reach out to this whole association of black
journalists like her, who can put out this statement goes
to show why it matters so much to have media representatives.

Speaker 1 (31:00):
Yeah, and she actually explains why she thinks there was
more of a reaction this time.

Speaker 6 (31:05):
It was different because we're talking about college kids and
we're talking about young women, and I think it resonated
a little bit differently. Sometimes when you have people like
that who constantly say the same things or the same
type of destructive things about people, it starts to become
a little bit of white noise. Not that it was
ever right with the other things that he said, but
it was who he picked. He had done it before,

(31:27):
and there was a track record of him particularly saying
and espousing some pretty dangerous tropes about black women. And finally,
I think a lot of people said enough is enough.

Speaker 5 (31:40):
I think what Jamal is saying about the tropes is
such an important point, and I know that she's going
to talk to us about this a bit more later,
but I think it's worth noting that part of what
she's referring to, I presume, is the incessant conversation about
black women's hair texture on how it has been used
against them.

Speaker 2 (31:58):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (31:58):
I mean, I think this idea that black women men's
natural hair is somehow unkempt or untidy or unclean, that
is really a racist trope that black women have had
to fight against for a really long time. So he
is tapping into something with real historical context.

Speaker 5 (32:19):
I want to take us back to the timeline. So, Okay,
the team has returned, they've gone home for Easter. They
are being bombarded by the press. As we just heard
Jamal say, the National Association for Black Journalists has now
called for his firing. But Susie does don Imus ever
finally apologize.

Speaker 1 (32:37):
He does finally apologize, so a few days later, when
it is obvious that it is not just going to
blow over, he issues a formal apology on his show.

Speaker 2 (32:47):
Here's what he said.

Speaker 4 (32:48):
I want to take a moment to apologize for and
in sensitive and ill can sive remark we made the
other morning referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team. It
was completely inappropriate and madn understand why people were offended.
Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we're sorry.

Speaker 1 (33:08):
Clearly a scripted apology, not his usual off the cuff remarks.

Speaker 5 (33:14):
Right right, not how you expected on I was an
issue in apology exactly.

Speaker 2 (33:18):
It obviously wasn't like from the heart.

Speaker 1 (33:20):
It was clear that he was starting to feel some
heat here, but it was too little, too late, and
it did not stop the backlash. More and more mainstream
press started to pick up the story, and significantly. Al Sharpton,
who as you know, is a longtime civil rights activist
and who has a big media profile, especially at that time,

(33:41):
enters the fray and also demands that I must be fired.
He says that he's happy to accept his apology, but
he wants his bosses to accept his resignation as well,
so it's not dying down, and Imus agrees to go
on Al Sharpton's show, who also has a radio show
at this time, as sort of a mia culpa and

(34:02):
to deny that he's a racist, and he says that
he and his sidekicks were just trying to be funny
and that you know, he understands now why it wasn't funny,
but that he was never intending to be racist.

Speaker 2 (34:13):
I mean, okay, sure, yeah.

Speaker 1 (34:16):
Ultimately, though, it starts to get contentious and he makes
things much worse because he says at some point to
Al Sharpton and his black co host, I can't get
anywhere with you people.

Speaker 2 (34:29):
It's like, if you're.

Speaker 1 (34:30):
Trying to apologize, perhaps you don't use another widely understood
racial trope, which is to call black people you people,
you people.

Speaker 2 (34:39):
Wow.

Speaker 5 (34:39):
Okay, So I guess my next question then, is what
are his bosses doing while all of this is going
on and he seems to be just digging himself deeper.

Speaker 1 (34:50):
I mean, this is a great question. They are panicking.
By all accounts, they are doing meetings with their internal staffs.
Black employees are going to and BC bosses to be
like what the hell. CBS is trying to decide what
to do. But remember they're making fifty million dollars, so
they are very reticent to fire him. So instead they

(35:10):
try to just suspend him for two weeks and hopes
that that stops the damage, and that is again not
well received. No, and now we really see a cascade
of media, people's words, people, politicians, even Obama.

Speaker 5 (35:25):
Okay, I was wondering. I had wanted to ask, but
I didn't want to mess up our flow.

Speaker 1 (35:29):
Great cresident. So, as I said, Obama had been on
the show. He was a senator from Illinois. At this time,
he has already announced he's running for president, and so
people are asking about it, and he does also demand
that I must be fired. He says he didn't just
cross the line. He fed into some of the worst
stereotypes that my two daughters are having to deal with

(35:49):
today in America, which does again really remind you that
these are just kids.

Speaker 5 (35:55):
So is this all happening over days or weeks? What
is the timeframe here?

Speaker 1 (35:59):
It's really over the course of a week that we
get to the apology and then the Sharpton Show and
all this backlash, and then finally the team decides that
they have to respond. They can't wait any longer because
at this point it's really becoming untenable for them to
just you know, go to class.

Speaker 5 (36:16):
Students. Yeah, so you need to play basket.

Speaker 1 (36:18):
So they decide to do a press conference. And here's
Essence again on why they decide to do that.

Speaker 3 (36:23):
The press conference. Well, the press conference was seen as
the best way to move forward. Why because you have
a group of young women somewhere in between the ages
of eighteen and twenty that aren't only athletes, but they're students.
So when you're trying to go to class, or you're

(36:43):
trying to, I don't know, go get some lunch at
the calf, just basic things, you're being chased by media outlets.
You lose your privacy and at the end of the day,
we like to get our education. So I, coacher and
the rest of the staff came with the idea of
a press conference because then that way you can address

(37:05):
everyone at one time. So make sure that we were
able to get together collectively and take a stand together
and control our narrative because it was already spinning out
of control.

Speaker 1 (37:17):
Jess, I think, actually this is a pretty good place
to end it, with Essence having this last word, because
things are spinning out of control, but the team is
about to take control of the situation and there will
be a turning point with this press conference, so please
join us next week for part two and we will
tell you all about it. This is in Retrospect. Thanks

(37:46):
for listening. Is there a pop culture moment you can't
stop thinking about and want us to explore in a
future episode. Email us at Inretropod at gmail dot com
or find us on Instagram at in retropod.

Speaker 5 (37:58):
If you love this podcast, please and review us on
Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it,
you can post nasty comments on our Instagram, which we
may or may not delete.

Speaker 1 (38:08):
You can also find this on Instagram at Jessica Bennett
and at Susie b NYC. Also check out Jessica's books
Feminist Fight Club and This Is eighteen.

Speaker 5 (38:17):
In Retrospect is a production of iHeart Podcasts and The Media.
Lauren Hanson is our supervising producer. Derek Clements is our
engineer and sound designer. Emily Meronoff is our producer. Sharon
Atia is our researcher and associate producer.

Speaker 1 (38:31):
Our executive producer from the media is Cindy Levy. Our
executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stemp and Katrina Norbel.
Our artwork is from Pentagram. Our mixing engineer is Amanda
Rose Smith. Additional editing help from Mary Do. We are
your hosts Susie Bannaccarum.

Speaker 5 (38:48):
And Jessica Bennett. We are also executive producers. For even more,
check out inretropod dot com. See you next week.
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