Two of the ABC’s leading sports broadcasters have been publicly condemned by colleagues over racist comments that are being investigated by the national broadcaster.
Veteran rugby league caller David Morrow and expert commentator Warren Ryan have been stood down after Ryan used the expression “old darky” during a Sydney Roosters-Canterbury match on May 23.
Francis Leach and Tracey Holmes, appearing on the ABC’s Offsiders program on Sunday morning, were highly critical of the comments.
Holmes said anyone who had such attitudes should not be working for the national broadcaster. Leach said he was embarrassed and angry about the remarks, and said it was time to “call out” racism, no matter its guise.
During the rugby league match, Ryan, 74, said: “There’s a line in a movie where the old darky says – someone says – ‘Quittin’ time’. He said ‘It’s not quittin’ time. I say quittin’ time’. Then he yells out ‘Quittin’ time!’ In other words you mustn’t do that, that’s our job.”
The two-time NRL premiership coach was quoting from a scene in the classic 1939 movie Gone With the Wind. It is shown in the video below.
Following a series of complaints from listeners, the ABC issued a statement on Friday saying that the pair had been suspended and asked to submit a formal response on the matter. Morrow was reportedly being investigated as to why he found Ryan’s comments funny.
Last year, Morrow, who has 40 years experience, was suspended by the ABC for joking about how hard it was to see people in Darwin without the lights on. He said at the time that he was “ashamed and embarrassed” for making the joke to a fellow broadcaster, unaware that he was on-air at the time.
“I most unreservedly apologise for any sort of offence I’ve caused any member of the indigenous Australian people of this country,” he said at the time. “More importantly, if I offended anyone, it’s a disgrace and I deserve a proper kick in the teeth for doing so.”
Leach said on Offsiders that he was not referring just to the latest comments, but “a series of events that have happened over the last four or five years. And it’s just got to stop. Someone’s got to call it out, and I’m calling it out here today.”
Racism is racism, however it’s dressed up, whether it’s dressed casually, whether it’s wearing a mouthguard, whether it comes in a business suit.
He said: “Silence means complicity in these matters, and I’m not prepared to remain silent or complicit about what went on.
“Here at this place where we work, we expect a higher standard. In fact, we work here because we want to be kept to that high standard.
“And when I heard what went to air personally, I cringed. I was embarrassed to be an ABC Grandstand broadcaster associated with it. And then I got angry about it, I really did.
“We all talk a good game in this country about this. We love it. We have our Long Walk, we have our indigenous round, we have our All Star game.
“But as soon as we can put a name and a face to racism or bigotry, our first instinct always seems to be to look for an excuse: ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it, I was taken out of context, can’t you take a joke’.
“Racism is racism, however it’s dressed up, whether it’s dressed casually, whether it’s wearing a mouthguard, whether it comes in a business suit.”
People can have all the training they like, but if this is the way you think, then I’m sorry, 2014 and doing commentary on the national broadcaster is not the place for you.
Holmes said: “It’s not a first time. Unfortunately you are talking about two people that are very very good commentators with a lot of history on the board, but that doesn’t erase what went to air and the thinking behind it.
“People can have all the training they like, but if this is the way you think, then I’m sorry, 2014 and doing commentary on the national broadcaster is not the place for you.”
The latest comments come amid the context of a wider debate on racism in Australian society, with the Coalition government under pressure to compromise on its plans to water down the Racial Discrimination Act to allow greater freedom of speech.
Ethnic and indigenous groups are among those opposed to the proposed changes, which are being pushed by Attorney-General George Brandis, who told the parliament that “people do have the right to be bigots”.
In the AFL, indigenous players Adam Goodes and Neville Jetta have been racially abused this season, with Essendon and the Western Bulldogs taking action against supporters in their own ranks who have made racist remarks.
This followed racial abuse of Goodes by a young Collingwood supporter last season, and Collingwood coach Eddie McGuire’s joke that Goodes could be used to promote the musical King Kong. Goodes, the Australian of the Year, recently said the remark had ended his friendship with McGuire.
There has been a backlash by some observers, including Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones, who said recently that people had become so sensitive that “it is almost reverse apartheid”. “It is the new game in town. If you think you’ve been racially abused, apparently you have been,” Jones said on Sunrise.
Age football columnist Jake Niall has written about the backlash against Goodes, using the dichotomy framed by African-American writer Shelby Steele, in which black public figures are divided into “challengers” and “bargainers”. He argues that Goodes, despite his relatively mild views, has becomes football’s “challenger” and is paying the price. His column can be found here.