Rutgers Team, Coach Respond to Imus
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The women of the Rutgers University basketball team will meet with the man who insulted them on national radio - Don Imus. Today, the team had their say at a press conference in their home arena. This is their coach, Vivian Stringer.
Ms. VIVIAN STRINGER (Rutgers University Women's Basketball Coach): 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, you know, no one can 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.
NORRIS: Coach Vivian Stringer said the comments made by Imus are deplorable. And team members said they had done nothing to deserve the comments or the controversy that followed.
NPR's Robert Smith reports from Piscataway, New Jersey.
ROBERT SMITH: The Rutgers Scarlet Knights had an incredible basketball season. Coming back from a losing record last fall, they made it into the women's national championship game for the first time in the school's history. But never through that run of victories did they get the kind of media attention they commanded today.
Team captain Essence Carson looked out on 25 video cameras and asked the TV networks where they were when the team was winning basketball games.
Ms. ESSENCE CARSON (Captain, Rutgers University Women's Basketball Team): Now, we are bombarded with phone calls, e-mails and with cameras. They invade our privacy and place us between a rock and a hard place. We haven't done anything to deserve this controversy, but yet it has taken a toll on us mentally and physically.
SMITH: Carson said that the remarks of radio talk show host Don Imus had stolen a moment of pure grace for the team. After they lost the championship game, Imus called the players nappy-headed hos on his nationally syndicated morning show. The crass joke prompted protest by African-American leaders and led to a two-week suspension of his show on CBS Radio and MSNBC.
But today, for the first time, the players spoke out. Heather Zurich is a sophomore on the team.
Ms. HEATHER ZURICH (Rutgers University Women's Basketball Team): What hurts the most about this situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally. He doesn't know that Matee is the funniest person you will ever meet, Kia is the big sister you never had but always wanted, and Pip(ph) would make an unbelievable lawyer one day. These are my teammates, my family, and we were insulted. And yes, we are angry.
SMITH: Although Imus had called the women rough and compared them with the tattooed players of an NBA team, seeing them in person brought home how young they all are. Five of the members of the team are freshmen, and when they spoke they seemed a little stunned that this whole thing had happened to them.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer said she told the team that they can't look at this as just a personal affront.
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.
SMITH: On his show this morning, Don Imus began another round of apologies, and said that he accepted the two-week suspension doled out by his networks.
Mr. DON IMUS (Radio Talk Show Host): I mean, do I deserve this punishment? Absolutely.
SMITH: But he said he does not deserve to lose his whole career over the mistake. Civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and the National Association of Black Journalists have called for Imus to be canned.
Mr. IMUS: If, in fact, it was some malicious, vicious, racist tirade, then I ought to be put in jail. But this was just stupid - no less repugnant and no less offensive. But anyway, I'll talk to the young women and we'll try to move on and make this a better show and me a better person.
SMITH: The Rutgers players said they will meet with Imus privately. But they stopped short of saying that they would accept his apology, and they refused to weigh in on whether or not he should be fired over the remarks. But Kia Vaughn, a sophomore from the Bronx, knew what she would tell Imus when she looked him in the eye.
Ms. KIA VAUGHN (Rutgers University Women's Basketball Team): It does hurt, and I would like to speak to him personally and ask him after you've met me as a person, do you feel in this category that I'm still a ho - as a woman, and as a black African American woman at that?
I achieve a lot, and unless they have given this name of ho a new definition, then that is not what I am.
SMITH: Imus's suspension begins next Monday. And when asked what MSNBC should do with that airtime, team captain Essence Carson had a suggestion. Play the highlight reels from Rutgers winning season.
Robert Smith, NPR News.
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