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ESPN radio hosts suspended following transphobic broadcast

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
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WASHINGTON — Two Washington D.C.-based radio announcers were suspended Tuesday following a brief, on-air apology for remarks made during a broadcast last week in which they referred to a transgender female basketball player as “he/she” and “it.”

WTEM Radio, branded as ESPN 980, said Tuesday afternoon it had “temporarily removed” hosts Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin for the disparaging remarks directed at Gabrielle Ludwig, 50, a transgender basketball player for Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif.

Gabrielle Ludwig

Ludwig was the subject of a lengthy article that appeared in USA Today last Wednesday, prompting an on-air discussion the following day between Pollin, Czaban, and Maryland basketball analyst Chris Knoche.

Pollin introduced the segment talking about the USA Today story, and when he revealed that Ludwig was transgender, Czaban audibly groaned, after which the three discussed Ludwig’s appearance and mocked the picture of her that appeared with the article.

Later in the segment, Czaban said, “Don’t go playing sports saying ‘But I’ve got the rights of everyone else.’ Yeah, you’ve got the rights to live as a human being, you know, with other people respecting you and everything else, but athletics is different.”

From the broadcast:

Czaban: “What’s the net net of the story? Because I’m not going to read it.”

Pollin: “Well, the net net is, you know she’s … she/he has had a lot of problems in his/her life…”

Czaban: “I think it is the politically correct term…”

Pollin: “…Whatever it is, and this basketball is helping him/her transform his/her life into a better life, such as it is.”

The story was first reported by the LGBT website OutSports.com, which called the remarks “disgusting,” and “meant to demean another human being who has broken no laws and no rules.”

The broadcast can be heard here:

On Monday, Pollin and Czaban issued a 10-second apology for calling Ludwig “it.”

“It was among the least sincere non-apologies in history. The only things they’re really sorry for are being caught,” said OutSports.

Prior to the suspension, Aaron McQuade, Director of News and Field Media at GLAAD, also noted the apology, but called the pair out for failure to address the remainder of the segment’s coverage, which he defined as “offensive.”

On Tuesday, responding to growing media attention, WTEM released this statement:

“We strongly believe two of our employees crossed the line when discussing a transgender student-athlete on their program last Thursday. Such intolerance and insensitivity will never be tolerated by this company. Due to the nature of their conversation, the pair have been temporarily removed from ESPN980’s Sports Reporters program.”

Chuck Sapienza, vice president for programming for WTEM, had previously said that Pollin and Czaban had been “dealt with internally in a swift manner,” but that “due to the language of their contracts we are not allowed to comment publicly on any disciplinary actions.”

In a statement from GLAAD on Tuesday, McQuade said, “This suspension sends a strong message that the station takes this matter very seriously, coming after a half-hearted apology was offered by Czaban yesterday.”

Mara Keisling, Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, added, “Commentators like Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin have a lot more power than they sometimes seem to understand. And they can do a lot of damage with hateful words, even if expressed carelessly.”

“I don’t see how these folks can be trusted to wield the power and responsibility they have, so thoughtlessly used against people who just do not deserve it,” Keisling added. “No one deserves to be treated the way they treated Gabrielle.”

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