‘This has scarred me for life’: Rutgers players describe how Don Imus’ comments hurt

AP Video:

Assoicated Press Video

Click here to watch video.

Rutgers basketball player Kia Vaughn doesn’t know what radio host Don Imus meant when he called her and her teammates “nappy-headed hos,” but she’s sure that she’s not one.

“I achieve a lot, and unless they have given this name ‘ho’ a new definition, then that is not what I am,” said Vaughn, the team’s sophomore center.

Vaughn and the other 9 members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about comments made last week by Imus the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee.

Wearing matching red and black tracksuits and highlighting the on-court accomplishments and off-court academic accomplishments, the team portrayed the exact opposite image of the racially charged words Imus used to describe them.

The women include a class valedictorian, a future lawyer and a musical prodigy who plays classical compositions on the piano without sheet music. Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for “racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable.”

The women, eight of whom are black, called his comments insensitive and hurtful.

“It kind of scars us. We grew up in a world where racism exists, and there’s nothing we can do to change that,” said Matee Ajavon, a junior guard. “I think that this has scarred me for life.”

The women agreed, however, to meet with Imus privately next Tuesday and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they’d accept Imus’ apologies or passing judgment on whether a two-week suspension imposed by CBS Radio and MSNBC was sufficient.

Rutgers’ athletic director, Robert E. Mulcahy III, thought a meeting with Imus would offer the team’s players a chance to listen to him and hear what he has to say. Several players said they wanted to ask the host why he would make such thoughtless statements.

“We all agreed the meeting with Mr. Imus will help,” said Essence Carson, a junior forward. “We do hope to get something accomplished during this meeting.”

The fallout from the comments continued Tuesday. Office supply chain Staples Inc. and Procter ‘ Gamble Co. said they pulled advertising from Imus’ show, and Bigelow Tea said the remarks have “put our future sponsorship in jeopardy.”

Calls for the radio host’s dismissal have been growing, including from groups such as the National Organization for Women and the National Association of Black Journalists.

But many, including the very women in the middle of the firestorm, said they would wait to weigh in on whether he should be canned.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked if the president thought Imus’ punishment was strong enough, but said it was up to Imus’s employer to decide any further action.

“The president believed that the apology was the absolute right thing to do,” Perino said Tuesday.

Imus’ radio show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. (MSNBC, which simulcasts the show on cable, is a part of NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co.)

While Imus has used his show to spread insults around – once calling Colin Powell a “weasel” and another time referring to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as a “fat sissy” – his comments about the Rutgers women crossed the line, Stringer said.

“It is more than the Rutgers women’s basketball team. It is all women’s athletes. It is all women,” said Stringer, the third-winningest women’s basketball coach of all time who has taken three teams to the Final Four.

Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn’t been thinking when making a joke that went “way too far.” He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an “ill-informed” choice.

MSNBC has said it will watch to see whether Imus changes the tenor of future programs.