Italian American Organization Calls on NBC to Suspend or Fire Golf Analyst for Offensive, Prejudicial Remarks

Statement by Louis Tallarini, President of the Columbus Citizens


Jun 24, 2008, 01:00 ET from Columbus Citizens Foundation

    NEW YORK, June 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Columbus Citizens
 Foundation calls on NBC to suspend or terminate its contract with golf
 analyst Johnny Miller.
     On Sunday, June 15, during NBC's coverage of the U.S. Open, Miller made
 two derogatory and offensive remarks about professional golfer Rocco
 Mediate, who was vying with Tiger Woods for the championship of the U.S.
     Miller said of Mediate, who is 45-years-old and of Italian heritage,
 "He's a character -- he looks more like the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming
 pool." Later in the broadcast, as the prospect of Mediate winning the Open
 seemed increasingly possible, Miller said, "Guys with the name of Rocco
 don't get on the trophy, do they?"
     The "trophy" comment reinforced a negative stereotype -- namely, that
 people named Rocco don't deserve to compete successfully in a sport played
 in clubs that in some cases continue to exclude members of numerous racial,
 religious and ethnic backgrounds -- not to mention women, as a whole.
     His message was plain. "Italian Americans: keep out."
     And his "swimming pool" remark reinforced a dated and prejudicial
 stereotype that Italian Americans are suited to unskilled labor and little
 else. (Imagine the outcry that would have followed if Miller had said that
 Woods looked like a guy who cleans pools for a living.)
     Miller later apologized for the remarks in a statement that NBC
 released on June 21. The apology itself was offensive. He stated that his
 comments "had nothing to do with [Mediate's] ethnicity," as if the name
 Rocco is commonly given to people of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
     Although he has apologized, however deficiently, NBC has refused to
 sanction or suspend Miller. NBC's inaction reflects a double-standard that
 is prevalent in the United States: when broadcasters slur members of
 certain ethnic, racial, or religious groups, they are suspended or fired.
 When they denigrate others, a simple apology is enough.
     The members of the Columbus Citizens Foundation disagree.
     Over the past generation, there have been several instances when
 broadcasters denigrated an ethnic or racial group, and in each case, there
 have been serious consequences.
-- In 2008, Golf Channel broadcaster Kelly Tilghman said the only way young golfers could catch Woods was to "lynch him in a back alley," recalling the hundreds of African Americans lynched during the 19th and 20th centuries. She was suspended for two weeks.
-- In 2007, Don Imus disparaged members of the Rutger University women's basketball team players along vulgar and prejudicial stereotypical lines. His show was cancelled by WFAN Radio.
-- In 2006, baseball commentator Steve Lyons mocked co-commentator Lou Pinella's use of Spanish during a broadcast and said, in an apparent attempt at humor, that he didn't want to sit near Mr. Pinella for fear that his wallet would go missing. Fox network fired him.
-- In 2003, Rush Limbaugh, on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, said of African American quarterback Donovan McNabb, "I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. I think there's a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really didn't deserve." Limbaugh resigned under pressure.
-- In 1988, Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder explained what he perceived was a superiority of black athletes as follows: "During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he could have a big black kid -- that's where it all started." He was fired by CBS.
-- In 1987, Los Angeles Dodgers' vice president in charge of player personnel, Al Campanis, said, "I truly believe, that they [African Americans] may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager." Asked on "Nightline" if he truly believed what he had just said, Campanis continued, "Well, I don't say that all of them, but they certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have, how many pitchers do you have, that are black?" Campanis resigned under pressure. These men and women were penalized for their ignorant, prejudicial remarks. On the grounds of knowledge, Miller is or should be aware that Mediate is one of a number of Italian-Americans who have been successful professional golfers. Gene Sarazen (Eugenio Saraceni) won seven grand slam championships and was one of just five golfers to win each of the sport's major championships at least once, an achievement known as the Career Grand Slam. Johnny Revolta, Vic Ghezzi and Ken Venturi also won major championships, and most recently, Fred Couples (Coppola), won the Masters in 1992 and was PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. In past generations, families of Italian-American descent often anglicized their names to avoid discrimination, which was common. Regarding prejudice, Miller's broadcast comments bring into play demeaning stereotypes and associations that have no place in American society or culture. The Columbus Citizens Foundation commends the companies mentioned above -- WFAN Radio, ESPN, CBS, Fox, the Golf Channel, the Los Angeles Dodgers -- which recognized that indulging in and allowing negative stereotypes, vulgarity, and ethnically- and racially-based slurs promotes and condones them. We also find it deeply troubling that networks acknowledge their moral obligation to censure broadcasters who make offensive and insensitive remarks about some groups but not about others. NBC now has the opportunity to act on the principles of equality and justice for all. We call on NBC to recognize the seriousness of Miller's comments -- no matter whether made causally and without any intent of malice -- by suspending him from its broadcasts or terminating his employment with the company. The Columbus Citizens Foundation is a non-profit organization in New York City committed to fostering an appreciation of Italian-American heritage and achievement. The Foundation, through a broad range of philanthropic and cultural activities, provides opportunities for advancement to deserving Italian-American students through various scholarship and grant programs. The Foundation organizes New York City's annual Columbus Celebration and Columbus Day Parade, which has celebrated Italian-American heritage on New York's Fifth Avenue since 1929. CONTACT: Andrew Decker, 212-222-4688

SOURCE Columbus Citizens Foundation