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Monday, April 9, 2007
Updated: April 13, 12:11 AM ET
Rutgers women should be celebrated -- not insulted

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com

When someone says something so astonishingly cruel, so pathetic and wrongheaded and thoughtless as what Don Imus; his executive producer, Bernard McGuirk; and his sports announcer, Sid Rosenberg, said about the Rutgers women's basketball team, I'll admit my first reaction is a little violent. OK, more than a little.

Essence Carson
Rutgers and Essence Carson were a joy to watch. Anyone who saw differently was "only seeing the reflection of their own cesspool of prejudice," Voepel writes.

I wish they would have to line up and face the wrath of everyone who knows these young women.

Yeah, I know, violence doesn't solve anything. And you can't use it to drive hatred and racism and sexism and meanness out of people. It's completely counterintuitive to even suggest it. OK, I'll try something less violent. How about all three get their mouths washed out with soap?

I'm not repeating the vile remarks made about the players here; you've probably heard them by now or can find them on the Internet. Or just take my word for how revolting they were.

Somehow, we've gotten to a place in our society where so-called "adults" think it's OK to publicly insult a group of young people whose sole transgression was they appeared on national television and apparently didn't meet some "appearance" standard these men had.

It also tells you something grotesque about our society that people will defend them. They will say, "It was only a joke; you just don't get it," or "Just don't listen!" or offer some amazingly vapid pretzel logic such as, "Well, rappers say stuff like this all the time! So why can't Don Imus say it?"

Bottom line: Nobody should say things like this. There are no excuses. It's not funny in any possible context. This wasn't satire, not even a lame attempt. It's not acceptable. It's not defensible. People who say things like this about other people should feel shame to the very core of their soul.

I don't know if Imus qualifies as "media," per se. Whether he does or not, he isn't alone in wallowing in this kind of garbage. The "media" -- print, radio and television -- keeps lowering its standards on decency. Racism is supposedly funny. So is misogyny. Mix them together and it's just downright hilarious, isn't it?

  It seems completely wrong to 'defend' the Rutgers team, as if there might be anyone about whom these things could be said and it would not be offensive. Still, I want to say this: These are some very fine young people whom the entire state of New Jersey and the world of college athletics can cite as what's right in our society today.  
Imus has since apologized, and it's up to viewers/listeners to decide how sincere he is or whether they want to ever listen to or watch his show again.

Admittedly, there's a fear that even responding to things like this just gets them more publicity. And maybe for the shock jocks or shock writers out there, there isn't any shame or embarrassment left in them. In fact, maybe there never was any in them to begin with.

It also seems completely wrong to "defend" the Rutgers team, as if there might be anyone about whom these things could be said and it would not be offensive.

Still, I want to say this: These are some very fine young people whom the entire state of New Jersey and the world of college athletics can cite as what's right in our society today.

Here are just a few examples. Essence Carson is an accomplished pianist who also plays several other musical instruments, writes poetry, excels in the classroom and thinks every day of her late grandmother, who helped raise her and introduced her to the joy of music.

Matee Ajavon came to the United States from Liberia at age 6 and hopes one day to be a teacher.

"I think I have a lot to say," Ajavon said in an interview during the NCAA Tournament. "And maybe I can change the world."

Ajavon always tends to bring some "lightness" to her surroundings, which she enjoys doing.

"I like to put smiles on people's faces and brighten up other people's days, because you never know for sure what someone else is going through," she said. "They might just need a smile. I'm that kind of person."

Kia Vaughn has seven younger brothers, and maybe that's partially where she gets her great sense of humor. She kept reporters entertained with stories of how tough coach C. Vivian Stringer's practices were and the difficulties of doing without a locker room when Stringer made it off limits to her team for not performing up to her expectations.

Rutgers made an amazing run through the NCAA Tournament, all the way to the championship game. The Scarlet Knights were a joy to watch.

People who saw something different were looking through poisoned eyes and not viewing anything that was actually there. They were only seeing the reflection of their own cesspool of prejudice.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.