WASHINGTON -- Two Democratic presidential candidates urged ESPN to fire conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday for saying the media wanted Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to succeed because he is black.
Wesley Clark, a retired Army general who entered the race Sept. 17, called the remarks "hateful and ignorant speech." Front-running candidate Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor, followed up with his own assessment -- "absurd and offensive."
Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN's pre-game show that he didn't think McNabb was as good as perceived.
"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
The Clark campaign, which originally addressed the letter to ABC, eventually sent it to ESPN president George Bodenheimer. ABC and ESPN are corporate cousins, both owned by Walt Disney Co.
McNabb said Wednesday he wasn't looking for an apology, because it's too late for that. But the star quarterback said he was shocked to hear such comments on television.
In the letter to ESPN, Clark said, "There can be no excuse for such statements. Mr. Limbaugh has the right to say whatever he wants, but ABC and ESPN have no obligation to sponsor such hateful and ignorant speech. Mr. Limbaugh should be fired immediately."
Later, Dean said in a statement, "There is no legitimate place in sports broadcasting for voices that seek to discredit the achievement of athletes on the basis of race."
Limbaugh said in his syndicated radio show that critics were overreacting to him exercising his free-speech rights in calling McNabb overrated. "There's no racism here, there's no racist intent whatsoever," he said.
Before Clark issued his letter, an ESPN spokesman said he didn't think the comments were racially biased.
"He was comparing McNabb's performance on the field to his reputation in the media," spokesman Dave Nagle said. He said Limbaugh doesn't do interviews.
Clark, a supporter of affirmative action, has sought to burnish his credentials as a Democrat since entering the race amid criticism over his past support of GOP administrations.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press