Rutgers Coach Addresses Imus Remarks

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Radio host Don Imus has been suspended for two weeks for racist comments made against the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Imus has apologized for his remarks. Players and coaches from the university held a press conference Tuesday on the issue.

ALEX COHEN, host:

We turn now to an emotional news conference today at Rutgers University, where the coach and members of the school's basketball team spoke out for the first time about racist remarks that came from radio curmudgeon, Don Imus.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The talk show host has been suspended for two weeks because of the way he and his producer described the Rutgers players. Today their coach, Vivian Stringer, talked about the pain she and her players felt after hearing him.

Ms. VIVIAN STRINGER (Coach, Women's Basketball Team, Rutgers University): We have all been physically, mentally and emotionally spent, so hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus. But, you see, we also understood a long time ago that it - you know what? No one can make you make you feel inferior unless you allow them - that we can't let other people steal our joy. We've always understood that for a long, long time.

COHEN: Last week, Coach Stringer led the Scarlet Knights to the NCAA finals, and that was a first for Rutgers. She told reporters today that the insults by Imus and his producer went beyond racism.

Ms. STRINGER: It's not about the Rutgers women's basketball team, it's about women. Are women hos? Think about that. Would you have wanted your daughter to have been called that? It's not about they as black people, or as nappy-headed. It's about us as a people.

CHADWICK: And several of the players spoke and took questions. Here is forward Heather Zurich.

Ms. HEATHER ZURICH (Forward, Rutgers): What hurts the most about the situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally. He doesn't know that Matee is the funniest person you'll ever meet; Kia(ph) is the big sister you never had but always wanted; and Piff(ph) would make an unbelievable lawyer one day. These are my teammates, my family. And we were insulted. And yes, we are angry.

CHADWICK: That is sophomore Heather Zurich. Her team captain Essence Carson says that the Don Imus remark stole the joy the team felt after their accomplishments of the season. And she added this bit of news.

Ms. ESSENCE CARSON (Team Captain, Rutgers): We have agreed to have a meeting with Mr. Don Imus. This meeting will be a private meeting at an undisclosed location in the near future. We just hope to come to sort of some type of understanding of what the remarks really entailed, his reasons why they were said, and we'd just like to express our great hurt.

COHEN: That was Essence Carson, captain of the Rutgers women basketball team. With us on the line now is NPR's Robert Smith. He was at today's news conference. And Robert, can you tell us a little bit about what the mood was like there? I imagine it was a rather emotionally charged place.

ROBERT SMITH: Oh, it was incredibly emotional. They had alumni from the team were there. Members of the men's team showed up. And to hear the coach, Vivian Stringer, talk about not just what happened with Don Imus but a whole history of racism that she had experienced, there were people wiping away tears.

And the most emotional thing that it's easy to forget, you know, we've talked about this story now for almost a week, you forget how young these women are. Half the team are freshmen. There are no seniors on the team. And to see them face to face, that these are really young college women being put through something that they never asked for and they said has really, really destroyed whatever sense of thrill they have gotten from the season.

COHEN: This story is going to continue on. As we heard mentioned, there will be a private meeting between the players on the team and Don Imus. Do we know anything about what's going to happen during that meeting?

SMITH: Well, you know, it's interesting. I mean, the women on the team said that they really just want to look him in the eye and hear an apology face to face. They said they've Don Imus's apologies on the media. They've seen his press releases, but it means nothing unless they can look in his eyes. And I think what everyone's really waiting for, the team and the coach and the president of the university here made no comment about whether Don Imus should be fired from his job or whether a suspension was adequate. They said they really wanted to wait to hear what he had to say before they would say whether he should lose his job permanently over this.

COHEN: You know, in the midst of all this Imus brouhaha, we've kind of lost sight of the fact that on top of all this, the Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee in the National Final. Any sense of whether or not this affair has put that disappointment behind them?

SMITH: Well, I think they've forgotten about basketball. That's what this has done. You know, they had a celebration here. They made it to the finals. It's the first time that Rutgers has made it to the finals. And they had the celebration, but since then it's just taken everything away from them.

COHEN: NPR's Robert Smith in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Thanks so much for joining us.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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