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Wednesday, October 1, 2003
McNabb: Too late for an apology from Limbaugh


PHILADELPHIA -- Donovan McNabb doesn't mind criticism of his performance. He's upset that Rush Limbaugh made his race an issue.

And the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback says it's too late for an apology from the conservative commentator, who said the media has overrated McNabb because they want to see a black quarterback succeed.

"It's somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him," McNabb said Wednesday. "It's not something that I can sit here and say won't bother me."

Limbaugh insisted Wednesday he had "no racist intent whatsoever." In fact, the conservative commentator said he must have been right; otherwise, the comments would not have sparked such outrage.

Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN's pregame show that he didn't think McNabb was as good as perceived from the start.

"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 on "Sunday NFL Countdown." "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."

Limbaugh did not back down during his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday.

"All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something," Limbaugh said. "If I wasn't right, there wouldn't be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community."

The NFL disclaimed any responsibility from Limbaugh's remarks.

"ESPN knew what it was getting when they hired Rush Limbaugh," league vice president Joe Browne said. "ESPN selects its on-air talent, not the NFL."

The Rev. Al Sharpton scheduled a news conference Thursday morning in front of ABC headquarters in New York. He said he would call for ESPN to fire Limbaugh and would call for a national boycott of the network this weekend if he isn't. ABC and ESPN are corporate cousins, both owned by Walt Disney Co.

"I'm going to call for ESPN to terminate Rush Limbaugh as we've seen other networks terminate people for racist remarks in the past," Sharpton said Wednesday night. "I'm shocked that we're at Wednesday and we have not seen an apology from Mr. Limbaugh. We cannot sit back in silence. That would be consent and we would have lost self-respect."

Chris Berman, who anchors the ESPN show, said he did not believe Limbaugh's tone or intent was malicious.

"As cut and dry as it seems in print, I didn't think so when it went by my ears," he said. "I probably should have looked to soften it. We're sorry we upset a guy who got off to a rough start."

McNabb said someone on the show should have taken on Limbaugh. Among the other panelists are former players Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, both of whom are black.

"I'm not pointing at anyone but someone should have said it," McNabb said of the panelists, who also include former quarterback Steve Young. "I wouldn't have cared if it was the cameraman."

Limbaugh was scheduled to be in Philadelphia on Thursday to speak at a broadcast convention. McNabb said he wouldn't be welcome at the Eagles' practice.

"I really don't want to see him," McNabb said. "You can say you're sorry all you want, it doesn't matter. It's been said."

The extent of the controversy became more evident when Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark and Howard Dean urged ESPN to fire Limbaugh. Clark, a retired Army general, called the remarks "hateful and ignorant speech." And Dean, a former Vermont governor, followed up with his own assessment -- "absurd and offensive."

The NAACP also condemned Limbaugh's remarks, calling them "bigoted and ignorant," and called for the network to fire Limbaugh or at least provide an opposing point of view on the show.

"It is appalling that ESPN has to go to this extent to try to increase viewership," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said in a statement.

ESPN said: "We have conveyed to Mr. Limbaugh that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate."

McNabb, who was runner-up for the league MVP award in 2000 and has led the Eagles to two straight NFC championship games, said he has no quarrel with Limbaugh's comment on his ability.

"I know I played badly the first two games," he said.

McNabb got off to the worst start of his career this season and was the NFL's lowest-rated starting quarterback after losses to Tampa Bay and New England. Still, the Eagles are 36-22 in games he has started, including 4-3 in the playoffs.

Limbaugh on Wednesday reiterated that he doesn't think McNabb is a bad player, just that he isn't as good as some media members think he is.

"This is such a mountain out of a molehill," he said. "There's no racism here, there's no racist intent whatsoever."

Limbaugh is the radio host of the politically focused "Rush Limbaugh Show," which is syndicated in more than 650 markets worldwide.

He spent most of the 1990s assailing then-President Clinton and now spends Sunday mornings talking football, a job he called "the fulfillment of a dream."

Limbaugh has helped increase the ratings for "Sunday NFL Countdown." ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said ratings are up 10 percent overall. Sunday's show drew its biggest audience in the regular season since 1996.

Seven black quarterbacks started games last weekend. Two other blacks who regularly start, Daunte Culpepper of Minnesota and Michael Vick of Atlanta, were out with injuries.

Asked about Limbaugh's comments, Eagles defensive end N.D. Kalu said: "He speaks well, he's well-read, but he's an idiot."