Countdown host Chris Berman and studio analysts Tom Jackson and Steve Young said nothing to challenge Limbaugh's opinion at that time. But all three came up strong yesterday in criticizing Limbaugh for insensitive racial remarks and factual inaccuracy.
Jackson, the former Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker, said it had been "a rough week" and defended the crew's silence during the week by noting that no one prevented the analysts from speaking out on the controversy.
"It was not our decision to have Rush Limbaugh on this show," Jackson said, almost moved to tears. "His comments [about McNabb] made us uncomfortable. Rush Limbaugh is known for the divisive nature of his rhetoric."
Jackson added that Limbaugh was "brought in to talk football, and he broke that trust."
"Rush told us the social commentary for which he is so well known would not cross over to our show," Jackson said, "and he instead would represent the viewpoint of the intelligent, passionate fan.
"The fact that Donovan McNabb's skin color was brought up at all was wrong."
Berman said the comments made him angry.
"I'm angry for all the hurt . . . more for you, the viewers . . . African American, all Americans," Berman said, almost verbally running off the rails. "I've never looked at Donovan McNabb as a black quarterback - ever."
Young pointed out that Limbaugh's mistake was that he "refused to recognize that in the last 20 years the quarterback position has become blind to color."
Limbaugh, who has yet to apologize to McNabb or any member of the media, told the National Association of Broadcasters in Philadelphia on Thursday that "the great people at ESPN did not want to deal with this kind of reaction. The path of least resistance became for me to resign."
McNabb has since said he didn't mind criticism of his performance but was upset that Limbaugh made his race an issue and said it was too late for an apology.
"It's somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him," McNabb said. "It's not something that I can sit here and say won't bother me."
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie on Thursday accused ESPN of "institutional racism" for its decision to hire Limbaugh and for the demeaning portrayal of pro football players in the network's fictional series Playmakers. He said the hiring of Limbaugh and the show are examples of "racist potshots" at the league.
The Limbaugh flap also came up on the pregame shows on Fox and CBS.
Fox cohost James Brown said: "Considering what the prevailing attitude was not too long ago about the inability of a black quarterback to handle the job, lacking the cerebral qualities to do so, maybe a little media pandering wouldn't be so bad.
"However, in my 18 years covering the NFL, I have not seen any of my media colleagues coddling McNabb or any other black quarterback. Just ask Kordell Stewart. That's the way it's supposed to be."
"The football field is a sanctuary from the rest of the crazy world," Fox analyst Howie Long said. "You make the team, and if you are fortunate, you attain a certain level of greatness based solely on your performance on the field. And more importantly, you gain the respect of your peers based solely on your performance on the football field, regardless of color. Statements like Rush's are at best ignorant and at worst racist."
CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said: "Well, [Limbaugh] really did cross the line. What was so shocking to me is that he actually was so poor from the get-go over there at ESPN. But the fact of the matter is that I believe in freedom of speech, and sometimes that leads to freedom of stupidity.
"And I think that's what we have here, because none of his opinions are supported by any facts whatsoever," Esiason added. "We all played the game and know that your reputation is earned on the field. And for what Donovan McNabb has done the first few years of his career, he's earned the moniker of one of the best quarterbacks in football regardless of what his skin color is, because that doesn't even play an issue in our eyes."
Contact staff writer Ron Reid at 215-854-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.