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Words come back to haunt sports executives, athletes

Updated October 12, 2021 - 3:27 pm

Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Raiders on Monday after it was revealed he had made racist, misogynistic and anti-gay comments in a series of emails. He joins a list of pro sports executives and athletes whose careers ended or were negatively impacted after making similar controversial statements.

Some of the more notable:

Al Campanis

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager

What said: During a “Nightline” interview with ABC’s Ted Koppel advancing the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut, Campanis said African Americans “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” He also said blacks often are poor swimmers “because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

When said: April 6, 1987

Consequences: Campanis was fired less than 48 hours later.

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder

Oddsmaker, “The NFL Today” host

What said: During an interview with a Washington, D.C, producer-reporter celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Snyder, a former Las Vegan, said: “The Black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s been bred that way. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the slave owner would breed his big Black to his big woman so that he could have uh big Black kid, see. That’s where it all started.”

During the same interview, Snyder said the only area of sports in which whites then dominated was coaching, and that if Blacks were to assume coaching jobs “as I think everyone wants them to, there is not going to be anything left for the white people.”

When said: Jan. 15, 1988

Consequences: Snyder was fired by CBS the next day.

Donald Sterling

Los Angeles Clippers owner

What said: TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and his mistress V. Stiviano, who is part African American, during which the Clippers’ owner said: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with Black people,” and “you can sleep with (Black people). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want (but) the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.”

When said: The recording was released April 25, 2014.

Consequences: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed by the NBA.

Marge Schott

Cincinnati Reds owner

What said: Charles Levy, a former Reds marketing director, stated in a deposition he heard Schott refer to former Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as “million dollar n……”. Later she said in a Sports Illustrated story that Adolf Hitler “was good in the beginning but went too far.” Former Oakland A’s executive assistant Sharon Jones also said she overheard Schott say “I would never hire another n…… I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a n……,” before the start of an owners’ conference call.

When said: 1992, 1996

Consequences: After being fined and suspended from day-to-day operations of the Reds, Schott agreed to sell her controlling interest in the franchise in 1999.

John Rocker

Atlanta Braves pitcher

What said: Rocker was quoted by Sports Illustrated saying he’d retire rather than play in New York. “Imagine having to take the train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing. The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English …”

During the same interview, Rocker also referred to teammate Randall Simon of Curacao as a “fat monkey.”

When said: 1999

Consequences: After speaking to Braves legend Hank Aaron and apologizing, Rocker continued making controversial statements and was suspended without pay for the first 28 games of the 2000 season by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. On appeal, the suspension was reduced to 14 games. Rocker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2001.

Kyle Larson

NASCAR driver

What said: During an online racing event after the onset of the COVID shutdown, Larson, who is Japanese American, said: “You can’t hear me? Hey, n……” when he thought he lost communication with another competitor.

When said: April 2020.

Consequences: Larson was suspended indefinitely by Chip Ganassi Racing and NASCAR, which ordered him to complete sensitivity training. He was ultimately fired by his team but reinstated by NASCAR and signed by Hendrick Motorsports. Larson won NASCAR’s regular-season championship and is a top contender for the 2021 overall title.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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