ESPN Apologizes for, Removes ’Homophobic’ Ad

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 2, 2009

ESPN thought it was being clever when it unveiled a promotional ad the cable channel that showed basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal rejecting a "fist kiss" (fist bump, really) from sports commentator Mike Breen. Instead, it unleashed a firestorm of protest.

Now, the channel has said it is sorry and will remove the ad, reports The Advocate. After Breen called it a "fist kiss," O'Neal moves away from Breen on the couch, and says, "No fist kiss, no fiss love, no fist hump. None of that. You're a weirdo man. Stay over there. Fist kiss. Disgusting."

It was the latter word that got the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign hot under the collar.

GLAAD, in a statement, reported that ESPN responded to its objections with a statement of its own. "None are intended to be offensive to anyone or any community of people," ESPN's statement said of its campaign. "Our intent is to send a positive message about the camaraderie of sports and to do so as creatively as we can."

The network added that "We understand your perspective on this ad and would like to apologize to the members of the gay community. In addition, we have decided to remove the ad from the campaign's online executions.

"ESPN has a long-standing tradition of supporting diversity in the workplace and beyond. We are fully committed to continuing a dialogue that welcomes and recognizes diverse perspectives. We appreciate your bringing your concerns to our attention."

In fact, ESPN has by most standards an outstanding record on gay issues. There are out-gay employees who talk of a supportive work environment. The station has repeatedly discussed gay athletes (both out and not). And a fictional program featured a gay player.

For its part, GLAAD praised ESPN for its swift action, and "applauded ESPN's decision to apologize to the LGBT community for its airing of an offensive promotional ad and for its decision to remove it from its website."

In 2005, O'Neal chased down alleged gay bashers in Miami's South Beach.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).