ESPN parts ways with Rob Parker over controversial comments

By Allison Koehler

Sports journalist Rob Parker, a former Detroit News and Detroit Free Press columnist, is no stranger to controversy, so when ESPN suspended him after comments he had made regarding Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, it was not all that surprising.

However, for ESPN calling the opinions Parker shared as “inappropriate,” the network also did not shy away from practically looping the “First Take” snip-it in which Parker made the disparaging remarks. ESPN later said it took “appropriate disciplinary measures” with “personnel responsible” for airing and re-airing the comments.

Although just 18 days into what was initially said to be a 30-day suspension, news broke Jan. 8 that ESPN would not be renewing Parker’s contract. A spokesperson from ESPN issued the following statement.

“Rob Parker’s contract expired at year’s end. Evaluating our needs and his work, including his recent RG III comments, we decided not to renew his deal.”

It all started at a Redskins press conference back in December where Griffin stated that he wanted to be known for his talents, not because he was a black quarterback. His comment was in response to a reporter’s question of why he wasn’t allowing himself to be defined as an African American quarterback.

“For me, it was just… you don’t want to be defined by the color of your skin,” Griffin said. “You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I strive to go out and do. I’m an African American in America. That’ll never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.

“I understand that they’re (the fans) excited that their quarterback is an African American. I appreciate them for being fans, and not just fans because I’m African American.

“They’re (fans and media) going to try to compare… you know, we always try to find similarities in life; no matter what it is. So they’re always going to try to put you in a box with other African American quarterbacks—Vick, Newton, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon. Warren Moon and Doug Williams really didn’t run that much.

“I think that’s the negative stereotype when it comes to African American quarterbacks that most of us just run. Those guys threw it around. I like to think I can throw it around a little bit. That’s the goal. Just to go out… not try to prove anybody wrong, but just let your talents speak for themselves.”

Parker’s role is of analyst on “First Take” and he was asked to respond to Griffin’s statements that he would rather be defined by his work ethic than by his skin color. Parker insinuated that the remark would have many black people questioning the quarterback’s “blackness.”

“My question, which is just a straight honest question, is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?”

When asked to elaborate by the program’s host, Parker said, “He’s black, he kind of does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause – he’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you’d want to hang out with.

“I want to find (out) about him. I don’t know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. Then there was all this talk about he’s a Republican, which there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like, ‘I’ve got black skin, but don’t call me black.’ So people wondered about Tiger Woods.”

Parker admits Griffin’s braids do make him appear urban. “Wearing braids, is… you’re a brother. You’re a brother if you got braids on.”

He was suspended the next day by ESPN.

Parker has long been a contributor to WDIV-TV’s Local 4 and has also written for its companion website It appears Parker will remain in his occasional role as sports commentator, although there’s a possibility that can change.

Local 4 news anchor Devin Scillian invited Parker to be a guest on his Sunday morning news program, “Flashpoint.” It was Parker’s first one-on-one interview since his controversial remarks were made. The South End had the opportunity to get Scillian’s thoughts on this whole controversy.

“’Flashpoint” has, over the years, continued with a running conversation about race,” Scillian said in an online interview with The South End. “My friendship with Rob along with his occasional freelance work for WDIV made him a natural (guest) I thought.

“I’ve known Rob for a long time and he has always enjoyed saying the controversial thing. But that one left me a little dumbfounded, not only because it was a really damaging thing to say from a career standpoint but also because it felt like a kind of truth serum – that it was showing me a part of Rob I didn’t know existed.

“At first, I thought it was the only thing ESPN could do (regarding Parker’s suspension). But after hearing that the producers apparently knew what he was going to say I felt that was just ESPN covering their fannies. Seems ESPN bore some responsibility, too.”

When asked if his opinion of Parker’s comments changed after his “Flashpoint” interview, Scillian said.

“Well, Rob didn’t exactly run away from his comments. He did try to put them in a different context (that they were the feelings of others ‘in the barbershop’ and not necessarily his own views) but I was a little surprised that Rob didn’t just say, ‘Well, that was a stupid thing for me to say.’ From a strict PR standpoint, fessing up and apologizing seems to be the fastest way to get something to die off.”

Parker said in his “Flashpoint” interview, “The one thing I’m proud about being on that show, ‘First Take’, for the last six years, is that we are willing to tackle a lot of stuff that most shows won’t even touch or even discuss. I think it’s important. I think we’ve done it in a really good way. This is the first time, really, we were in hot water after dealing with such an issue.”

Though Parker’s apology for his comments appeared on Twitter, as of Jan. 9, he had posted no comments on his profile regarding his contract not being renewed (likely because his handle is @RobParkerESPN).

Read more here:
Copyright 2019 The South End