ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith was the most recent TV personality to earn a suspension after making controversial remarks on Ray Rice’s domestic abuse suspension. “Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong action…we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation,” he said on ESPN’s First Take, implying that a woman can be at least partially responsible for a domestic abuse incident.
Smith issued an on-air apology this week and will be suspended until Aug. 6.
Although on-air pundits are paid by giant media conglomerates like ESPN to give their honest opinions on controversial topics, they can often become PR nightmares for the TV network. Here’s a look at some of the most notable on-air personalities to be suspended or fired for having a controversial opinion.
Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, CBS
Jimmy “The Greek” was an American sports commentator best known for his work on NFL Today. What truly immortalized Jimmy “The Greek,” however, were his comments on African-Americans in the NFL.
“If [black people] take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there’s not gonna be anything left for the white people,” he said in an off- air interview. Jimmy also said the black athletes are better than white athletes because of the Civil War era slave trade. “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way.”
Jimmy “The Greek” was fired from CBS, and his comments escalated race debates throughout the country.
Bill Maher, ABC
Years before his gig on HBO, Bill Maher hosted an Emmy Award-winning show called Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. The show ran on Comedy Central and ABC until 2002 and was almost identical to his show’s current format, except for that fact that Maher’s monologue came at the beginning.
Six days after 9/11, Maher made a controversial remark, prompting ABC to decline his contract the following year. In response to George W. Bush calling the hijackers “cowards,” Maher said, “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly.”
Many interpreted Maher’s comments as anti-military and overly critical of America’s role in the Middle East. With political tensions running high and America preparing for war, Maher was given the boot.
Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, A&E
Duck Dynast is a reality show that follows the lives of the Robertson family, who made a family fortune from their Louisiana-based duck call business. Phil Robertson, one of the show’s main characters, was suspended indefinitely in 2013 for making public comments against homosexuality during an interview with GQ.
The decision to suspend Robertson was obviously a move for A&E to manage its reputation, a decision that seems to have paid off. Duck Dynasty remains one of the most watched shows on TV and boasts $400 million in merchandising revenue.
Martin Bashir, MSNBC
In a November 2013 speech, Sarah Palin equated the Federal debt to slavery. Martin Bashir, a political commentator with MSNBC, found the comments ignorant and angrily overreacted to Palin’s comment.
Bashir explicitly described some of the gruesome, torturous actions of slave owners. He cited Thomas Thistlewood, a slave owner who forced his slaves to urinate or defecate in another slave’s mouth as punishment.
“When Mrs. Palin invokes slavery, she doesn't just prove her rank ignorance. She confirms if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate," he said on live air.
Although Palin’s comments were embarrassingly insensitive, one simply cannot suggest on live air that someone deserves “a dose of discipline” from a slave owner. Bashir resigned from his position two weeks later.
Rob Parker, ESPN
ESPN’s First Take cast was discussing QB Robert Griffin III’s insistence that he should not be defined by his race. Griffin is African-American and stated that he simply wants to be the best quarterback possible, rather than be confined to the “black quarterback” category.
“It makes me wonder deeper about him…is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?” said Parker, questioning Griffin’s “blackness,” which seemed to have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. “He’s not really down with the cause, he’s not one of us, he’s kind of black but he’s not really the guy you wanna hang out with because he’s off with something else…we all know he has a white fiancé and there’s all this talk that he’s a Republican.”
“I am very uncomfortable with where we just went,” responded Stephen A. Smith. ESPN was uncomfortable with Parker’s comments as well, suspending Parker for 30 days. The network announced a few weeks later that Parker would not return. He now works for a local news network in Detroit.
Al Campanis, ABC
AL Campanis was the general manager of the Dodgers from 1968 to 1987, but was fired for his racist remarks on the lack of black managers in Major League Baseball.
“I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or perhaps a general manager,” said Campanis. “How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black? The same thing applies…Why are black men or black people not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”
“I gotta tell you, that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing 40 years ago about players when they were saying ‘oh, they’re not really cut out,’” responded Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel. Campanis was fired immediately and never found another job in baseball.
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