Packer Has Backers, Some Detractors After His Iverson Remark

During the 1981 NBA finals on CBS, after a photo of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team was shown, commentator Rick Barry joked about colleague Bill Russell's "watermelon smile."

In 1983, Howard Cosell referred to Washington Redskin receiver Alvin Garrett as "that little monkey."

Four months later, CBS football announcer Tom Brookshier, after reading a promo for a Louisville-North Carolina State basketball game, said the Louisville players had "a collective IQ of about 40."

Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder was fired by CBS in 1988 after having said during an interview with a Washington television station that blacks had been bred to be big and strong by their slave owners and that if more blacks become coaches "there's not going to be anything left for the white people."

Last May, CBS golf commentator Ben Wright got into hot water after being quoted by a Delaware newspaper reporter as saying lesbians in women's golf were hurting the sport and that "boobs" got in the way of a woman's golf swing. Wright eventually was taken off golf telecasts.

And now it's Billy Packer's turn in the hot seat. Last Saturday, the CBS commentator called Georgetown's Allen Iverson a "tough monkey."

Was it just an innocent slip, or was it, in these times of political correctness, a racist remark?

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Colleagues in sports broadcasting everywhere have come to Packer's defense.

"I want to flat out say Billy Packer doesn't have a racist bone in his body," said Dick Vitale.

Said ESPN colleague Digger Phelps, "You just have to look at the work Billy has done for the Black Coaches Assn., that he has pushed and endorsed their agenda."

Packer's backers point out that since Georgetown Coach John Thompson and Iverson himself exonerated him for the slip, that should be good enough.

ESPN's Mike Patrick said, "We need to get past the words and look at the intent, and I know Billy Packer has no racist intent."

Jim Nantz of CBS said, "Billy apologized, John Thompson and Iverson said they weren't offended, end of story."

Talking about offensive comments, Nantz wondered how Turner's Reggie Theus got away with this description of Cleveland's Danny Ferry: "He really sucked during his first three years in the NBA."

Said Nantz, "The only reason I know about it was I read it in Michael Hiestand's column in Monday's USA Today, and he praised the announcer for being concise. Well, as a parent, that word really bothers me."

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White newspaper TV sports columnists have generally pooh-poohed the Packer incident. The New York Post's Phil Musnick wrote that it was "no story," adding it's "proof we've all gone nuts."

The New York Times' Richard Sandomir called the remark "unfortunate," adding there is "no reason to think the comment carried racial overtones, although it totes that baggage--intended or not."

The Boston Globe's Jack Craig wrote that the volume of phone complaints to CBS and its affiliates "appears to be greatly exaggerated."

But African American journalists offer a different viewpoint.

Los Angeles native Kenneth Miller, a part-time broadcaster who is now sports editor of an African American newspaper in West Palm Beach, Fla., but still contributes to the Los Angeles Sentinel, said, "It was a very insensitive comment. What if a black commentator had called a white player a cracker or a honky?"

USA Today's Kelly Carter, a guest of the Loose Cannons on XTRA this week, said, "It is unfortunate that there are people who still have not learned that there are words that should be avoided."

Jesse Jackson, who originally called for CBS action, said he was satisfied with the network's response after a phone conversation. But then Packer was quoted as saying, "Al Capone was a tough monkey, Mike Ditka was a tough monkey, Bobby Hurley was a tough monkey--it has nothing to do with genetics."

Jackson said that made matters worse. Then Jackson and Packer talked.

"He brought to my attention that that is not an endearing remark to some people, and I apologize for that," Packer said.

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So what can announcers do to avoid being politically incorrect?

"You just have to be very careful," Nantz said. "There's a little editor in your brain that has to make a split-second check of what comes out of your mouth."

ABC's Al Michaels said, "You just have to be aware of the words and phrases that aren't appropriate. Howard Cosell told me after he called Alvin Garrett a little monkey that that's what his grandmother used to call him."

Said Vitale, "The scrutiny we're under is unreal. We're all human and make mistakes. But you certainly have to be thinking at all times and never put yourself in the position where you embarrass yourself or your network."

TV-Radio Notes

Pay-per-view boxing on cable television is taking some pretty good belts from promoter Bob Arum these days. In one blow he announced that the Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez fight on June 7 would not be on pay-per-view but instead would be shown exclusively in big arenas. Another was his creation of a boxing series the second Wednesday of every month exclusively for satellite dish owners--both the big and little ones--and sports bars. Arum's new boxing network makes its debut when the Ruelas brothers, Gabriel and Rafael, return in separate fights at the Grand Olympic Auditorium next Wednesday. The 2 1/2-hour telecast, which begins at 7 p.m., will cost home viewers $9.95.

Prime Sports' first Assn. of Volleyball Players (AVP) event of the year, the King of the Beach Invitational at Las Vegas, will be televised Sunday, delayed, at 8 p.m. Missing will be veteran volleyball announcer Chris Marlowe, who has excelled as a general play-by-play announcer and was hired by ESPN for a variety of assignments. Paul Sunderland returns and will be joined by former player Tim Hovland. . . . Rookie commentator James Worthy joins play-by-play announcer Steve Physioc on UCLA-Washington State on Prime Saturday at 2:30 p.m. . . . ESPN's outstanding "Outside the Lines" series Monday at 6 p.m. examines HIV and AIDS in sports. . . . NBC has announced that Cris Collinsworth will move from the booth to the "NFL on NBC" studio next season. Sam Wyche is likely to replace Collinsworth as Marv Albert's partner. . . . The next edition of "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" will be on HBO Monday at 10 p.m.

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