Longtime University of Iowa basketball broadcaster Gary Dolphin regrets referring to a Maryland player from Angola as King Kong, but should he sit out the rest of the season? Opinion is mixed.
Learfield, which owns Hawkeye Sports Properties, announced the suspension Friday, three days after Dolphin recapped a 66-65 Maryland win in which the Terrapins' Bruno Fernando scored the winning basket with 7.8 seconds left by saying, "Twelve 3s on 22 made baskets. That's some pretty good long-range shooting. And then Fernando was King Kong at the end of the game."
As ESPN.com reported, the Iowa athletic department officially supported Learfield's decision, and Dolphin, who has called Hawkeye basketball and football for 22 years, said in a statement, "During the broadcast, I used a comparison when trying to describe a talented Maryland basketball player. In no way did I intend to offend or disparage the player. I take full responsibility for my inappropriate word choice and offer a sincere apology to him and anyone else who was offended. I wish the Iowa Hawkeye players, coaches and fans all the very best as they head into the final stretch of the season. I will use this as an opportunity to grow as a person and learn more about unconscious bias."
Some were quick to come to Dolphin's defense.
"In no way was Gary Dolphin comparing a black man to an ape, as some have said he was. He was describing the outstanding play of Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, who was a man among boys, and whose strength was key in getting the putback offensive rebound to win the game," wrote Jon Miller under the headline "Gary Dolphin Deserves Better" at HawkeyeNation.com. "The best I can tell is that Learfield received one email relative to Dolph’s King Kong analogy, which he has used before, which a lot of people use to describe dominant play in athletics, and which Dolph alternates with other character analogies like ‘The Hulk’ and ‘Godzilla’ which he often uses."
HawkeyeNation's David Schwartz wrote, "It’s clear Dolphin tried to pay Maryland's Bruno Fernando a compliment — just as it’s clear that it doesn’t matter what Dolphin was trying to do — he should know to not to compare a large black man to a giant ape." But Schwartz stopped short of endorsing the suspension: "Athletic director Gary Barta and the UI Athletic Department responded by squandering two major opportunities: First, because learning is a lifelong process, someone in the department could have pulled Dolphin aside to explain why his well-intended comparison was a problem — they didn't have to suspend him; second, the UI could have demonstrated tact and presence by taking the time to acknowledge in detail why Dolphin's words cut so deep, something like, 'For centuries white people depicted black people as less than human, as animalistic, and because of that we condemn what Gary said and will work to educate him and all of our broadcasters about these historical trends to make sure this never happens again.' "
Dolphin had been suspended for two games earlier in the season after disparaging the Hawkeyes' play into an open mic.
But fans have rallied around Dolphin in light of the latest discipline. A petition launched Sunday on change.org reads: "The accompanying test reads: "Gary Dolphin was wrongfully suspended for giving a collegiate athlete a compliment. If you take Gary Dolphin's comment as being racist, I challenge you to search your own heart and see where you stand. I can tell you right now that Dolphin is NOT a racist and the comment in question is the furthest thing from it. Gary Dolphin should be reinstated immediately." As of this writing, it had received more than 22,000 signatures.
According to CBS affiliate KCCI in Des Moines, Kameron Middlebrooks, president of the Des Moines NAACP, contends that Dolphin used "inexcusable language," saying longtime media professionals should be held to a higher standard.
Al Lorenzen, who was dubbed “the Vanilla Gorilla” by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale during his Iowa playing days in the 1980s, told KCCI, "In the P.C. era that we all live in today, [that nickname] wouldn’t have been okay. Let's be real. As a white male, I don’t have the right to be offended in our culture today."
The athletic department's statement supporting Dolphin’s suspension, read in part, that Iowa "values diversity and is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all members of its campus community."
Jim Albracht and Bobby Hansen will serve as the radio announcers for Iowa men’s basketball games for the remainder of the basketball season, according to KCCI.