Coach: Imus' remarks point to bigger issue

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NEW YORK -- The head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team said Tuesday that Don Imus' sexist and racial remarks weren't just about insulting the team but against all women and all people.

In an emotional news conference at Rutgers University, C. Vivian Stringer said that she and the team were "physically, mentally and emotionally spent" by the insults that were aired Wednesday on radio and MSNBC by Imus.

"There is a bigger issue here. It's more than just the Rutgers women's basketball team," Stringer said. "It is all women's athletes. It is all women. Have we lost a sense of our own moral fiber? Has society decayed to such a point that we can forgive and forget because you know what, it was just a slip of the tongue?"

The news conference, aired nationally on MSNBC and elsewhere, also featured remarks from the 10 women who said that they were not only angry by what Imus said but how he "stole a moment of grace" where the women's team started the season 2-4 and found themselves in the championship game last week.

"We haven't done anything to deserve this controversy, yet it has taken a toll on us mentally and physically," the team's leader, Essence Carson, said.

Earlier in the day, Imus said that his suspension was appropriate but said it wasn't "a malicious rant."

Appearing live on "Today" (and simulcast on his syndicated radio show and MSNBC), Imus said he didn't think he was getting away with a slap on the wrist for a racist on-air exchange with executive producer Bernard McGuirk and sportscaster Sid Rosenberg against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Late Monday, CBS Radio and MSNBC announced that it wouldn't air Imus' radio show originating from WFAN-AM in New York for two weeks beginning next week. The corporate decision was made amid calls that Imus either resign or be fired.

"I think it's appropriate, and I'm going to try to serve it with some dignity, a lot of dignity if I can," Imus told Matt Lauer. But Lauer noted that it wasn't the first time Imus' remarks have been considered racist, pointing out a skit during the 1980s where then-New York Times White House correspondent Gwen Ifil was referred to as a cleaning lady.

"This is a comedy show," Imus said. "I'm not a newsman. This is not 'Meet the Press.' "

But the Rutgers coach said that the women did nothing to raise ire. "These aren't political figures, nor are they professionals," Stringer said. "These are hardworking 18, 19, 20-year-old young women who came here to get an education and use their gifts for all to see."

The Rutgers women's team will meet with Imus, and the team members say they're not sure what will come of it. Imus has pushed for a meeting with the women, their parents and their coaches to personally apologize.

"I can't really say whether we've come to a conclusion over whether we would accept the apology, but I can say this meeting will be crucial for us, the state of New Jersey and everybody representing us," one player told the news conference.

Carson said that she wasn't satisfied with what Imus has expressed so far.

"Reading it in a newspaper or watching it on television or hearing it over the radio doesn't serve any justice to what he said," Carson said.

Yet the suspension didn't pacify the people who had been calling since Wednesday's comments for Imus to be fired. The Rev. Al Sharpton, on whose radio show Imus appeared Monday, said the suspension didn't go far enough.

"I think it's too little, too late," Sharpton said on "Today." "The gravity of this type of use of the airwaves must be stopped."

"Today" co-host Al Roker wrote in a blog after Tuesday's show that it was clear that Imus "doesn't get it" and noted that Cartoon Network general manager Jim Samples did the right thing resigned after a publicity stunt went awry in Boston.

"What he said was vile and disgusting," Roker wrote of Imus. "It denigrated an entire team and by extension a community and its pride in a group that had excelled."

While Imus' reputation for insults and over-the-edge skits made him one of radio's early and most famous "shock jocks," even some of his high-profile fans felt that he might have gone too far. In a telephone interview on "Imus in the Morning" on Tuesday, former CNN and now CBS analyst Jeff Greenfield said that the Imus show's characterizations of blacks seemed rooted in the 19th century.

When Imus tried to defend the voicings, Greenfield said he was wrong.

Imus did promise that he would change the tone of the show, which has morphed over the years from a strictly comic program to one that includes guest appearances by a cadre of celebrities from the political and media elite including NBC Newsers Brian Williams, Tim Russert and David Gregory as well as Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman and others.
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