Column: Don Imus’ obituary cannot be completely written without mentioning his Rutgers women’s basketball remarks

Photo Credit -- Lamar Carter

A few days prior to the new year, the radio industry mourned the passing of an individual that has been mentioned as if he is synonymous with said industry itself.

That someone was Don Imus, who hosted the “Imus in the Morning” program for many years on New York’s WFAN 660, was in a much-ballyhooed radio ratings battle with Howard Stern when both hosted shows on WNBC-AM (a talk format that proceeded WFAN) and has been mentioned as arguably influential to the rise of WFAN as a station itself.

It is commonplace to try and wipe the slate clean with an individual whenever that individual no longer is with the general public. For the most part, as there is good and bad in virtually all of us, most are probably deserving of said praise.

But given the sort of medium Imus was part of, and the less-than-endearing stories that have been told about the sort of person he was, one incident in 2007 virtually defines his career.

Imus may be gone, but that video and that audio from that 2007 show in which he and his cast used derogatory, sexist and racist language to describe the Rutgers women’s basketball team will live forever.

And yet some news outlets – probably because the politics of said news outlets are in lockstep with Imus’ own politics – are trying to wash away that part of his legacy as if that 2007 program never happened.

Well…if that ’07 program never happened and the backlash to those comments never happened, why did it cost Imus his morning show (and therefore the last link between the 660 frequency in New York and the old WNBC days)? If that ’07 program never happened and the backlash to his remarks never occurred, why did it cost Imus his simulcast on MSNBC?

Imus’ show eventually moved to the more appropriate 770 WABC and his simulcast was picked up at first by a television station aimed at rural America called RFD-TV (which was already doing work with Imus’ former New Mexico ranch) and then later by Fox Business.

The RFD stands for “Rural Free Delivery” and Imus sold that ranch to RFD-TV, where it currently exists as “RFD-TV The Ranch.”

If that ’07 program never happened and the backlash to those comments never ensued, why has “shock jock” radio virtually disappeared? There are very few “shock jocks” left on radio today because in today’s era of social media and social activism, Imus, Stern, Opie & Anthony, Bubba the Love Sponge, etc. would not get away with a quarter of what they got away with in the 90s and early 2000s.

Also – if anyone wants to doubt the comments being sexist, it was not only the Rutgers players who he made lewd comments about.

For context, Imus mentioned that he “watched” the 2007 women’s tournament final between Rutgers and Tennessee at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena – a game that Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols by a final of 59-46 and Candace Parker was named Most Outstanding (aka Valuable) Player.

That is when Imus (and co-host Bernard McGuirk) said their quiet parts out loud. Shortly after referring to C. Vivian Stringer’s Rutgers players as “nappy-headed hoes,” he also said this about the Tennessee players.

The girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know.

–Don Imus, April 4 “Imus in the Morning”

First of all – WOMEN, not “girls.”

Second of all – Imus was 67 at the time. Nine times out of 10, saying someone looks “cute” is a sexual remark. A 67 (at the time) Y.O. man making lewd and crude remarks about young women basketball players in their late teens and early 20s is enough to make any decent human being’s skin crawl.

And it is not the only time Imus had an “open mouth, insert foot” moment – far from it. This was the same Imus who called the late PBS journalist Gwen Ifill a “cleaning lady” in 1993. And so much for him learning from his Rutgers transgression because a year after that controversy, his mouth got him in deep stuff again when discussing the Dallas Cowboys signing now former NFL cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.

Warner Wolf, formerly of 1050 ESPN Radio in New York and 77 WABC (as well as WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.) mentioned the Jones news on Imus’ show as well as his numerous suspensions and arrests and the “I-Man” prompted to ask what color is Jones.

Wolf said that he’s black to which Imus replied:

Well there you go, now we know.

–Don Imus

In fairness to Imus, he did apologize to the 2007 Rutgers team at the New Jersey governor’s mansion in Princeton – a roughly half-hour drive from the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. The governor of the Garden State at the time was Jon Corzine and he famously got into a car crash on his way to the meeting.

But the fact that he mentioned them live on-air in front of a hot mic on WFAN and in the MSNBC studio means he was thinking them. Typically, shock jocks will try and say that such comments were only meant for “comedic” effect, but said words would have been just as bad if they were said by a Charlamagne Tha God, DJ Envy, Ebro, Steve Harvey or Elvis Duran.

McGuirk, by the way, is still at WABC and co-hosts mornings with Sid Rosenberg, who was working at WAXY-AM 790 The Ticket in Miami at the time and was on the phone that April 2007 show when Imus dropped the “NHH” bomb as well as the “c-bomb” about the Lady Vols.

When someone has such a history with such remarks, it is practically part of one’s character. None of us is perfect, and while Imus is lauded for the work his did on his former ranch with children with cancer, we cannot overlook the racism and misogyny that permeated his programs through his remarks about Rutgers, Tennessee, Ifill, Jones and many others he talked about with reckless abandon on his program.

Because perhaps we can understand that such language is the language of the past and that we can all be better in creating a culture that is more accepting of everyone regardless of culture, creed, race or career (even if that career is counter-hegemonic (albeit, less so nowadays) as women’s basketball is).

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