Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

[00:00:00] Susie Banikarim: Hey everyone, this is part two of our episode about the 2007 Rutgers women’s basketball team. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. And just a note that we discussed racist and sexist language in this episode. In April 2007, Don Imus, a popular and prominent radio host, callously dragged a group of young female college athletes into a press storm.

[00:00:26] Essence Carson: I was blown away by what was said, although I was no stranger to racism and the nuances of it. I didn’t necessarily think it would be possible, and especially towards a group of young women like ourselves. 

[00:00:39] Susie Banikarim: But Don Imus was about to get caught in his own storm. 

[00:00:43] Jemele Hill: He had done it before, and there was a track record of him particularly saying and espousing some pretty dangerous tropes about Black women and, finally, I think a lot of people said enough is enough. 

[00:00:57] Susie Banikarim: After a week of silence, the team was finally ready [00:01:00] to respond, to take control of the narrative. I’m Susie Banikarim. 

[00:01:06] Jessica Bennett: And I’m Jessica Bennett. 

[00:01:07] Susie Banikarim: And this is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

[00:01:13] Jessica Bennett: And that we just can’t stop thinking about. 

[00:01:15] Susie Banikarim: Today, we’re talking about a college basketball team that was thrown into the national spotlight against their will. But we are also talking about who is allowed to respond in anger when they are publicly targeted, and who gets centered when these stories get told.

This is part two. 

[00:01:31] Jessica Bennett: Okay, to recap: so, the Rutgers women’s basketball team has just been to the national championships. And shock jock radio host Don Imus goes on his show and calls them an offensive slur on the air. 

[00:01:43] CLIPS: That’s some nappy headed hoes there, I’m gonna tell you that now. 

[00:01:47] Jessica Bennett: The backlash is growing quickly at this point, with people like Al Sharpton and Barack Obama calling for his resignation.

This all happens inside of a week, is that right? 

[00:01:56] Susie Banikarim: Yeah, the Rutgers team initially stays quiet. They take [00:02:00] time to think about how they want to respond and to let it play out a little bit. And then they decide the best way to do this is with a press conference. 

[00:02:08] Jessica Bennett: What happens at the press conference? 

[00:02:10] Susie Banikarim: So, exactly a week after the comments, they have this really emotional news conference.

Coach Vivian Stringer, who I’ll remind you was this very famous Hall of Fame coach, decided that the way to best approach this was to really emphasize the humanity of the girls beside her. 

[00:02:27] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:02:27] Susie Banikarim: So here’s what she said. 

[00:02:29] CLIPS: These young ladies that you have seated before you, before you are valedictorians of their class — future doctors, musical prodigies, and yes, even Girl Scouts. These young ladies are the best this nation has to offer. And we are so very fortunate to have them here at Rutgers University. They are young ladies of class, [00:03:00] distinction. They are are articulate. They are brilliant. They are gifted. 

[00:03:07] Susie Banikarim: She also didn’t shy away from clearly calling out what Don Imus had said as unacceptable slurs. 

[00:03:13] CLIPS: We had to experience racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, and abominable and unconscionable. And it hurts me. 

[00:03:25] Susie Banikarim: And then a couple players spoke, and Essence was one of them. She was introduced as a straight A student who could walk out here and play Moonlight Sonata on the piano without looking at the notes, which I know is true because I watched a video of her playing piano. And she expressed the team’s great hurt, anger, and disgust.

[00:03:45] CLIPS: Not only has Mr. Imus stolen a moment of pure grace from us. But he has brought us to the harsh reality that behind the faces of the networks that have worked so hard to convey a message of empowerment to young adults, that [00:04:00] somehow some way the door has been left open to attack your leaders of tomorrow.

[00:04:06] Jessica Bennett: Wow, you can hear how young she is there. 

[00:04:08] Susie Banikarim: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the commentators who were watching that day noted how young and vulnerable the team appeared. And this press conference was terrible for Don Imus. The Wall Street Journal would call it devastating for him. But the Rutgers team did say at the end they had agreed to meet with him.

[00:04:26] Jessica Bennett: So, we just heard Vivian Stringer as being very composed and super gracious in that press conference, but has she ever talked about how she reacted privately? Because I imagine she was pretty pissed. 

[00:04:38] Susie Banikarim: Yes. Her private reaction was very different. Years later she recalled in a 2018 profile that in the days afterward, and I’ll read this. I kept reading those words and I was so upset. I kept thinking, why would he say that? He doesn’t know us. I remember busting my hand on the wall and I was crying because it was bleeding. 

[00:04:58] Jessica Bennett: Hearing all this, [00:05:00] it like honestly makes me so sad because she’s just like, he doesn’t even know us. Like there’s so much bias coursing underneath the surface to what they’re saying, even in the press conference when they’re having to reiterate that these are brilliant, articulate young women. And it’s like, trying to object or subvert the tropes while responding to the thing. 

[00:05:24] Susie Banikarim: Yeah, that’s really is what’s happening. I mean, she has to put on this professional face and she has to prepare her team for a meeting with this man who’s caused them so much pain because she knows that’s what’s expected of her. I mean, she doesn’t really have a choice. 

[00:05:38] Jessica Bennett: And then of course she doesn’t really have the luxury of getting publicly angry, right? Like of course she has to slam a wall behind closed doors because what would they possibly say if she showed anger in public? 

[00:05:51] Susie Banikarim: Right. Then she’d become an angry black woman. That’s another trope that they have to make sure they’re not feeding into. And I think intrinsically they understood that [00:06:00] they had to appeal to people by laying bare their humanity, which is just not right, right? We shouldn’t have to lay ourselves bare to convince people we are worthy of not being treated terribly. And I was really struck by that too. So I asked Essence if they were conscious of that. 

[00:06:16] Essence Carson: I think it’s Black women, you know, we have to somehow figure out how to navigate this place. How to navigate life in a way where you are able to show how strong and powerful you are, how intelligent you are, but at the same time do it in a way where you don’t ruffle any feathers, where you don’t intimidate people.

You know, we should just take what’s given to us. Or, you know, the more we fight for ourselves and for others, as we often do, it’s almost just like, “Hey, you, you right there, yes, you, you specifically, be quiet.” What you grow to understand is that what [00:07:00] happens in sports, it’s like a microcosm of what society is.

[00:07:07] Jessica Bennett: What she’s talking about here is the double bind, right? Like, that these women, these young women had to grapple with the isms of both race and gender. And so, like, God forbid they would be labeled as angry. We saw how that played out when Serena Williams yelled at that ref. Even though research actually shows, and I will just point this out to clarify the record, that black women are in fact less likely to show anger when criticized or disrespected.

[00:07:36] Susie Banikarim: Because they know that this is a Catch 22, right? Especially in sports. In sports, you’re supposed to be aggressive. How are you also going to be docile? Like, it’s this insane thing where Serena Williams gets, you know, weeks of headlines about how she was unsportsmanlike. But in tennis, I mean, think about John McEnroe. Those guys were crazy and they never got dinged in the way she did. 

[00:07:58] Jessica Bennett: That’s the thing too, right? Like when [00:08:00] men express anger, they’re viewed as passionate, and their status actually increases, whereas when a woman expresses anger, she’s just crazy and nuts. 

[00:08:09] Susie Banikarim: Right. So as women, you know, right? You know that you have to kind of make yourself softer in some way to be considered professional. You have to put a bunch of exclamation points in your emails, and you have to be likable. 

[00:08:20] Jessica Bennett: Yeah. And in fact, they did come off as very likable. It seems like they effectively threaded that needle in this press conference? Is that what the response was? 

[00:08:30] Susie Banikarim: Yes, they definitely did, and it was an extremely successful press conference, and Essence really credits Vivian Stringer for that. She really was a pro, so she knew how to frame this in a way that would be effective. But one thing that’s interesting about the response to it is that a lot of the coverage remarked about how graceful they were, their dignity, their poise, and pundits repeatedly marveled at how articulate and gracious they were.

[00:08:58] Jessica Bennett: They actually used the [00:09:00] word articulate? 

[00:09:00] Susie Banikarim: Yes, yes. 

[00:09:01] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:09:01] Susie Banikarim: And, you know, the subtext of that is that it’s surprising that they were those things, which feels racist in a less obvious way. So, I want to bring back Jemele Hill to talk about this. As you know, Jemele is an acclaimed sports journalist, and she wrote about this story for ESPN at the time.

[00:09:18] Jemele Hill: Well, there’s the indignity that you suffer of being dehumanized, and then you have the extra indignity of having to react to it politely, because you’re always aware of the fact that your reactions are scrutinized and judged a lot differently. For them to be angry in that moment, for them to express any rage, it says everything about race in America that that would have been considered to be a classless reaction, but not what he said.

Their reaction would have been considered, had they chosen to be angry, and chosen to exhibit a more forceful emotion, would have been considered to be more egregious than the actual offense. I would have loved for them to be able to express however [00:10:00] they feel. But it’s unfortunately the burden and the responsibility that a lot of Black people have had to live with a long time.

Because not only are we often the victims of racism and institutional racism and white supremacy, we’re also not only tasked with being kind and polite to it, we’re also tasked with fixing it too. 

[00:10:17] Jessica Bennett: It’s so interesting because it’s like what they had to do there was predict the racist undertones or tropes that were going to be used against them and then like preemptively combat them.

[00:10:32] Susie Banikarim: Yes, they definitely had to go into this with the understanding that It was their responsibility to somehow make this better while also making it clear how unacceptable it was to them. 

[00:10:48] Jessica Bennett: Right. And how do you do that if you can’t be firm because firm might be interpreted as angry. 

[00:10:56] Susie Banikarim: I think that is actually the brilliance of Vivian Stringer. She is really [00:11:00] firm here, but she’s doing it in a way that really engenders empathy.

And you can tell this isn’t her first rodeo, right? 

[00:11:08] Jessica Bennett: Right, right. 

[00:11:08] Susie Banikarim: She knows what she’s doing. 

[00:11:10] Jessica Bennett: It’s just like there’s so many layers to this that you have to peel back and constantly be aware of. 

[00:11:16] Susie Banikarim: Right. Because you have to experience the racism, but then you also have to respond in a way that’s not going to create more racism, that’s not going to make you more of a target.

It’s really complex. And I think it’s also worth noting here that there was this kind of deep historical and cultural significance to the way that Don Imus chose to be offensive, right, by calling them names that were tied to their sexuality and to their hair, it was tapping into this long standing cultural baggage around Black women’s hair in this country.

It’s been stereotyped and stigmatized for so long, as we mentioned earlier, and Jemele was really interesting on this topic. 

[00:11:56] Jemele Hill: Hair is very central to the identity of Black women. Back during [00:12:00] the times of slavery, they used to make Black women bind their hair in various cloths basically so it wouldn’t publicly be seen.

And the reason they did it, it was because it was this crazy sort of thesis that if because Black women were elaborately styling their hair and that was part of their expression, there was this crazy idea that that would lure white men. And so when you call a group of Black women nappy headed hoes, you’re not only trying to dehumanize them, you’re also trying to make sure that you are sending the message that their beauty is not respected, regarded, or even wanted.

You’re trying to make them feel undesirable. That is the whole point of this, right? And so that’s something that Black women have also faced throughout the history of our lives is that we have been made to feel not only as if we don’t matter, but that we’re just not even beautiful or desirable enough to even be considered in the same way and [00:13:00] regarded in the same scope of femininity that everybody else is.

And so by planting the image that we are hoes, it makes it seem as if, historically, that the type of sexual abuse and sexual trauma that Black women have suffered is really their fault because they’re hoes and they’re loose. And that is another stereotype in a narrative. that we have had to fight throughout the course of our beings.

[00:13:34] Jessica Bennett: Susie, let’s go back to the fallout for Imus. Did he end up facing any consequences? 

[00:13:39] Susie Banikarim: He did. After the press conference, general outrage grew because it had been really effective, right? It had really emphasized that the Rutgers players were just kids for the most part and they weren’t, So 

[00:13:51] Jessica Bennett: It did what they wanted it to do.

[00:13:52] Susie Banikarim: Yeah. And they weren’t journalists or politicians who were choosing to go on Imus’s platform and mix it up with him to sell books or whatever, [00:14:00] right? These were just hardworking girls who had done nothing but dare to play basketball while being black. So it really, was a critical moment in this story. He did try to continue to spin things afterwards.

He did talk a lot about how he’d done all this charitable work, which is true. He had done a lot of charitable work with children with cancer, and he felt the need to mention that some of them were Black, which it’s like, oh, well thank God you didn’t weed out the Black kids from your cancer and illness ranch. Like, it just was kind of a crazy. 

[00:14:32] Jessica Bennett: And so it’s basically like that, but I have a Black friend. 

Susie Banikarim:  Yeah, it was a version of that, but almost worse because he was using these sick children as a way to defend himself, which it’s hard not to see that as a cynical way to try and change the conversation. He launched a telethon to benefit three children’s charities while all of this was happening, which just does feel a bit like a stunt.

He also defended himself by saying that the Black community had [00:15:00] used the word and said horrible things about Black women. And he argued that because rappers routinely, and this is a quote from him, defame and demean Black women and call them, in quotes, worse names than I ever did. Like how was he supposed to know that this was offensive?

And You know, that conversation is also, to me, just ridiculous, like, what that has to do with his decision to go after these girls for no reason, I don’t know, but it worked as a distraction. 

Jessica Bennett: It did? 

[00:15:31] Susie Banikarim: Yeah, a lot of conversation at the time around hip hop and whether it was a double standard, that Black rappers 

[00:15:38] Jessica Bennett: Oh, interesting. So that actually became a story. 

[00:15:40] Susie Banikarim: Yeah. Time did a story at the time. Oprah Winfrey did a town hall with Black leaders about whether or not hip hop needed to be held accountable for calling women bitches and hoes. 

[00:15:51] Jessica Bennett: Huh. Okay. 

[00:15:51] Susie Banikarim: So it is this crazy sideshow that happens. In fairness, Oprah, she had also done an episode with the girls from Rutgers, but still, [00:16:00] okay.

Jamele said when I spoke to her that this whole thing was just a way to continue to avoid accountability. 

[00:16:04] Jemele Hill: It was a way to let Don Imus and other people who think like them off the hook because I can tell you I can’t think of a single Jay Z lyric where he said the Rutgers women’s basketball team are nappy headed hoes.

Not one. Often what we see unfortunately in conversations about race is that at some point in these conversations, the people who don’t want to be accountable, want to then blame the people that they have either insulted, demean or dehumanize for their own treatment. So it’s not about Don Imus saying this about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

It then becomes, Oh no, Black people deserve this because that’s ultimately what he was saying. They deserve to be called nappy headed hoes because of something that Tupac said. That’s basically what he says. 

[00:16:55] Susie Banikarim: It’s just a diversionary tactic, essentially, and it becomes such a big part of [00:17:00] the story that Snoop Dogg ends up responding to it.

[00:17:03] Jessica Bennett: Oh my gosh, he did? Yeah. I don’t remember this. Okay. 

[00:17:05] Susie Banikarim: He said in an interview with MTV News, which was still a thing then, that we’re not, as he puts it, old ass white men sitting on MSNBC going hard on Black girls. We’re rappers. This comes from our own experience, and it’s relevant to what we feel, and we’re not going to let people say we’re in the same league as this man.

[00:17:22] Jessica Bennett: That’s interesting. Yeah, I mean, that’s true. Like, he’s not a news person on major news programs who is supposed to have some sort of journalistic standards, even though we know that he didn’t. 

[00:17:34] Susie Banikarim: Right. It’s just a totally different thing. And also, as is well established now, but I guess wasn’t as well established at the time, being part of a group does give you license to have different kinds of conversations about them.

That is just a fact. And to pretend like that’s not a fact and clutch your pearls and be like, well, why do they get to say this, but not Don Imus? It’s like, we know why. We don’t need to pretend we don’t know why. 

So the [00:18:00] pressure continues on CBS and MSNBC, particularly to fire him, particularly from Black leaders, Al Sharpton, who I already mentioned, who’s a well known civil rights leader, and also Jesse Jackson, who’s also a well known civil rights reader, and women’s groups continue to also put a lot of pressure on. I think the thing that this really highlights is that while Imus’s audience had gotten used to his antics, the larger public wasn’t so familiar with them. So this clip ends up being really shocking to a broad audience, and then all these previous clips that we mentioned come in.

And others that we didn’t mention because there were so many of them. So advertisers begin to bail. And as you and I both know, when the money goes is when the pressure really comes on. And once advertisers start pulling out, CBS and MSNBC realize that the suspension isn’t going to be enough. And MSNBC cancels his television simulcast, right, because they don’t actually produce the show they just, air it. 

And [00:19:00] eight days after he made the comments, Don Imus is finally fired by CBS. 

[00:19:05] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:19:06] Susie Banikarim: And in a, In Retrospect, cameo, twist, as per usual, the person who fires Don Imus is Les Moonves, because no matter what a list of bad men always crops up in every story. 

[00:19:20] Jessica Bennett: Les Moonves to remind people the former head of CBS who was then pushed out over egregious sexual harassment.

[00:19:27] Susie Banikarim: Yes. Yes. It’s just a reminder that the bad men are everywhere. So one other thing I just want to mention here because I think it is wild is that when I was researching this story I found that it had become such a huge story at the time that it inspired not one, but two Harvard Business School cases. 

[00:19:50] Jessica Bennett: Oh, really?

[00:19:50] Susie Banikarim: About how as a leader you should handle a crisis like this. So, 

[00:19:54] Jessica Bennett: oh, fascinating. 

[00:19:55] Susie Banikarim: This really did capture the national attention far beyond [00:20:00] the local New York story that it might have been in a different world.

[00:20:19] Jessica Bennett: It’s so interesting because this is the kind of stuff that now plays out all the time. 

[00:20:23] Susie Banikarim: Yes. 

[00:20:24] Jessica Bennett: And is probably tackled much more quickly. So it’s interesting to think about how that has shifted. It’s just so much more common, I think, now for Big companies to be put under pressure by the public and then advertisers to make a decision about a thing that happened.

[00:20:42] Susie Banikarim: It’s interesting because on the one hand, I think that’s true, but then I think about like a Joe Rogan on Spotify and how Spotify has basically just kind of let Joe Rogan do whatever he wants. And I think the other way in which the landscape has shifted is that there’s an expectation that certain people are going to be who they [00:21:00] are.

And so we don’t. Get as much backlash if a Joe Rogan says something, but obviously if a mainstream network TV person says something, that’s going to have a different impact. But there are different rules for different people now in a way that I don’t think existed then because they’re just 

[00:21:17] Jessica Bennett: how many listeners are yours? How many listeners are you bringing in for the platform? I mean, that was the whole thing with Joe Rogan, right? 

[00:21:23] Susie Banikarim: Right. Well, with Joe Rogan, Spotify doesn’t rely on advertising, right? So they make their own decision about what happens on their platform. 

[00:21:29] Jessica Bennett: It’s hard to pressure them. Yeah. 

[00:21:30] Susie Banikarim: Yeah. So it’s interesting. And look, I think you can look at even Tucker Carlson. Advertisers left Tucker Carlson in droves when he was at Fox News, but that’s not what finally got him fired, right? What finally got him fired is that, by all accounts, Rupert Murdoch finally got sick of him pushing conspiracy theories.

[00:21:48] Jessica Bennett: OK, so, you mentioned that the team did agree to meet with Don Imus. I imagine that must have been crazy. Did that happen? What exactly happened [00:22:00] at that meeting and what do we know about it? 

[00:22:01] Susie Banikarim: So the meeting did happen. Coincidentally, the meeting was scheduled for the evening of the day he ends up getting fired.

So the meeting happens also eight days after he made the initial comments and it’s a pre arranged meeting with the coach, Vivian Stringer, and the whole team at the New Jersey governor’s mansion. 

[00:22:22] Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow. It’s at the governor’s mansion? 

[00:22:23] Susie Banikarim: It’s at the governor’s mansion, but strangely, the governor never makes it to the meeting. As a weird aside, he gets in a car accident on the way and is like injured, so they have the meeting without him. So he’s not involved, but it’s at the governor’s mansion. 

[00:22:38] Jessica Bennett: But that is interesting that this has made it to the highest level of state politics. Yeah. 

[00:22:42] Susie Banikarim: Yes, definitely. And I think also New Jersey really rallied around this team. Like they felt real pride in them as they were making their way up to the Final Four. So I think they felt protective of them, right? So it became a New Jersey story in that way. So the meeting lasts about three to four [00:23:00] hours. 

[00:23:00] Jessica Bennett: That’s long. 

[00:23:01] Susie Banikarim: Yeah. It’s a long meeting. And I think a lot of people on the team talk. And afterwards, Imus leaves without commenting, but Stringer does say that the meeting went well, and that Imus apologized, and that they accepted his apology because he came to the meeting in spite of the fact that he’d lost his job. So, they give him credit for that, or at least Coach Stringer gives him credit for that.

And she also makes the point that That the basketball team had not called for Imus to be fired. 

[00:23:31] Jessica Bennett: Yeah, that’s pretty interesting. 

[00:23:33] Susie Banikarim: Right. I think that is interesting and worth noting because you get the sense that even as all of this is playing out, she’s conscious of not wanting the team to be blamed. She doesn’t want to be responsible for whatever happened to him, again, because I think they’re conscious of this possibility that there will be backlash, that somehow this will kind of push back on them. 

[00:23:55] Jessica Bennett: Well, and also at the end of the day, probably she’s just trying to stay in her lane.

Like this [00:24:00] is a team, this is an athletic team, these are girls, they never wanted to be weighing in on national racial politics in the first place. 

[00:24:08] Susie Banikarim: That’s correct. I think that is definitely part of it. She’s just like, I’m just protecting my team, and I don’t want to be blamed for whatever decisions other people need to make about this.

The team has not talked about this meeting very much. They’ve never really spoken about what happened, but I did ask Essence what the meeting was like from her perspective, and this is what she told me. 

[00:24:30] Essence Carson: I felt like we got what we needed to say off of our chests, each and every one of us. We shared what we needed to share, what we wanted to share about how we were feeling, about what it caused, and really allow him to put a face to those characters, because essentially he diminished us and, and, It made us characters, right?

So I think that at that time we were able to kind of humanize ourselves [00:25:00] as much as we could, right? As much as he cared.

[00:25:08] Jessica Bennett: It’s so interesting to think of them all there together. And what Essence is saying is, still pretty graceful and giving this guy a lot of grace in going to this meeting and, you know, wanting to show that they’re real people, not going in and being like, fuck you. Yeah. 

[00:25:25] Susie Banikarim: Well, we don’t really know what happened in the meeting.

[00:25:29] Jessica Bennett: True. 

[00:25:29] Susie Banikarim: Imus did eventually talk a bit about this meeting, and he did say that one of the player’s moms really was very mad at him and really expressed to him in ways that made it clear to him that what he had done wasn’t okay and wasn’t funny. And he said, it was good that I lost my job before this meeting, because it didn’t feel like I was just there to try and save my job.

I was really there to apologize. And I was grateful that they accepted it. 

[00:25:59] Jessica Bennett: I [00:26:00] mean, I guess to his credit, he could have canceled the meeting. 

[00:26:02] Susie Banikarim: I think he genuinely … He did feel very shamed by this chapter. And he said afterwards, he made a promise to them that he would not make them regret forgiving him because they had accepted his apology.

And I think for the most part, he did try and live up to that. But whatever his regrets, it did not stop him from suing CBS for 40 million claiming wrongful termination. So his regrets did not last very long. 

[00:26:32] Jessica Bennett: Did he get that money? 

[00:26:33] Susie Banikarim: He got a lot of it. CVS announced a settlement with him for an undisclosed amount in August, so this happened in April, so not that many months later, and the reporting at the time was that he got 10 to 20 million dollars.

[00:26:45] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:26:46] Susie Banikarim: That same day, one of the Rutgers basketball players, Kia Vaughn, who went on to play for the WNBA, filed a suit against Imus, his executive producer and all the media companies involved citing slander and libel and defamation of [00:27:00] character. 

[00:27:00] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:27:01] Susie Banikarim: And she was the only one to pursue legal damages, but you get the sense that they did really just want to move on. So, a month later, she drops the lawsuit saying she just wants to concentrate on her studies and basketball training. And I think they do just move on from this and try not to talk about it much afterwards. 

[00:27:19] Jessica Bennett: And so where does Don Imus go from here? 

[00:27:22] Susie Banikarim: Well, Jessica, you might be surprised to know that Imus was back on the air at another network, WABC, by the end of that same year.

[00:27:31] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:27:32] Susie Banikarim: In a deal that was reportedly worth five to eight billion dollars a year. It may also surprise you to know that his first guest included Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Senator John McCain. So, it really didn’t last long, the backlash, and on his first show back, he described that meeting with the team and said the things that I just mentioned about how it made him realize that it wasn’t funny.

He diversified his show, he [00:28:00] added some black comedians to his existing crew, and to give you an idea of how much he did or didn’t change, he ended his opening monologue by saying this. 

[00:28:13] CLIPS: But other than that not much has changed. Dick Cheney is still a war criminal. Hillary Clinton is still Satan. And I’m back on the radio.

[00:28:29] Jessica Bennett: Okay, so he’s clearly signaling to his audience that sure, he may have changed in this one realm, but he’s still the same guy who calls Hillary Clinton Satan. 

[00:28:39] Susie Banikarim: Yes. 

[00:28:40] Jessica Bennett: I mean, it is interesting because it’s like, okay, can people make, in his case, racist mistakes, apologize, do the work, as we like to say, and move forward, or can they not?

Like, it is an interesting question. Should he have been [00:29:00] kept off the air forever? This seems pretty quick. 

[00:29:03] Susie Banikarim: It’s just indicative of the fact that while he did get his hand slapped, he didn’t really lose that much. Much. Right? In the end, maybe he lost Some amount of money. But in the numbers we’re talking about here, tens of millions of dollars, whatever that money was, didn’t make a dent in his overall wealth.

And honestly, I think the thing that’s More interesting is that it didn’t take long for him to fully rehabilitate his image. Almost a year to the date of the original comments, Jesse Jackson, who had literally been one of the people leading protests and calling for his firing, appeared on his show. 

[00:29:41] Jessica Bennett: Okay.

[00:29:42] Susie Banikarim: To discuss the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which you may know that Jesse Jackson was there when MLK Jr. was assassinated. And that booking would have seemed impossible a year before. So it is an interesting question of how long does it take to [00:30:00] Rehabilitate or what is considered rehabilitation, but frankly, this feels like it wasn’t much within a year he was already sort of buddying up with the people who had been calling for accountability. 

[00:30:12] Jessica Bennett: Did Jesse Jackson ever talk about why he made the decision to go back on? 

[00:30:16] Susie Banikarim: I think the honest answer is people wanted access to his platform. It’s why people went on before knowing exactly who he was. You know, in the end, access to power is extremely seductive.

And I think that’s what the Imus story is in a lot of ways. People really tolerated a lot from Don Imus. Things they knew weren’t okay even before these comments because they wanted access to his platform. And I assume for Jesse Jackson, whatever he may have said at the time, that was essentially the same reason he decided it was okay to move forward with this guy.

[00:30:50] Jessica Bennett: Okay, so this is all interesting, but what, to what extent do you think he actually did mean it when he told the players, I am not going to make you [00:31:00] regret having accepted my apology? 

[00:31:02] Susie Banikarim: I mean, I think to some degree he did. I actually asked Essence about this and she was like, I don’t know, man, I did not continue to follow this man’s career.

When this was over, I put this chapter away and like, I just didn’t care to track him. And I think that’s very fair on her part. I think he made an effort not to use really racially charged language. What was in his heart, I mean, I think we just don’t know. There were a couple smaller incidents where he denied the kind of racial undertones that other people saw in them. So I do think he was under scrutiny. 

[00:31:39] Jessica Bennett: And did he ever talk about it again?

[00:31:41] Susie Banikarim: He did address the comments again in 2018. So Imus past in 2019, but he retired from his show in 2018. So that gives you a sense of how much longer he was on the air. He went back on the air in 2007 and stayed on for 11 more years.

And he gave an interview to CBS Sunday morning when he retired, which [00:32:00] also just gives you an idea of how much his image was rehabilitated, right? That CBS Sunday morning ran this glowing profile of him upon his retirement. And when the correspondent asked him if he had any regrets, he said that the Rutgers thing, that’s how he framed it, the Rutgers thing, I regret.

The correspondent asked, what do you regret about it? And he just said, because I know better. And he also added that it was because it changed thinking about making fun of some people who didn’t necessarily have a mechanism to defend themselves. I mean, I don’t know if it’s the kind of deep regret I might have expressed in this scenario.

[00:32:38] Jessica Bennett: Well, it’s interesting when he says, because he knew better, which sort of hints at, He knew it was bad at the time. 

[00:32:46] Susie Banikarim: Well, and I think also he just genuinely always resisted the idea that he was racist in any way, that the things he did had racist implications. Like so much of the way he defended himself at the time [00:33:00] was to be like, I am not a racist.

And, you know, that doesn’t really inspire the sense that he did a lot of self reflection. Because obviously a man who feels comfortable saying the N word and also just like spewing out this kind of casual racism all the time does have some racism to contend with. I just think that this idea that when you’re confronted with something about yourself, you get to just say, that’s not true about me.

I just said a bad thing, but it doesn’t mean anything about what I actually believe or who I actually am. That kind of does feel like a cop out. So I don’t know that he ever fully came to understand what this episode meant for him. I don’t know if narcissists are capable of that.

[00:33:52] Jessica Bennett: Okay, I’m sick of Imus. Yeah, fair. Let’s go back to the players. I want to know what became of these players. Where are [00:34:00] they now? 

[00:34:00] Susie Banikarim: Well, Jess, unlike a lot of stories we tell here, I’m happy to report that this story does have a happy ending. So Vivian Stringer would go on to become one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time.

She was the first coach in men’s or women’s basketball history to take three different schools to the final four. 

[00:34:19] Jessica Bennett: Okay. 

[00:34:19] Susie Banikarim: She was the fifth women’s basketball coach to reach a thousand career wins, and she was the first Black coach to achieve that goal. So, 

[00:34:26] Jessica Bennett: Amazing. 

[00:34:27] Susie Banikarim: She is an icon in college sports and just an icon in women’s sports. And I think is retired now from Rutgers, but is a beloved figure there. So she had a great career. Essence had an amazing career also. She was drafted by the New York Liberty when she graduated from Rutgers. She went on to have a long and successful basketball career, has played for a number of other WNBA teams and the U. S. national team, and she played overseas for some time. And now she’s a music executive. So she’s doing great. Kia Vaughn, who you may remember as the [00:35:00] student who did try and sue him briefly. She would go on to be drafted by the New York Liberty when she graduated. 

[00:35:06] Jessica Bennett: I didn’t realize so many of these original Rutgers players were on the Liberty.

[00:35:10] Susie Banikarim: Yeah, well a lot of them just went on to the WNBA. Kia eventually would go on to other WNBA teams and play internationally and she helped win championships for some of the teams she played on in Europe. She retired in 2022, so not that long ago, and she works for the Atlanta Dream 

[00:35:26] Jessica Bennett: Oh, I love that. 

[00:35:27] Susie Banikarim: There were other players who joined the WNBA, Epiphany Prince who was one of the players won the WNBA championship in 2020 with the Seattle Storm.

[00:35:35] Jessica Bennett: My hometown team. That’s so interesting. I didn’t realize. 

[00:35:38] Susie Banikarim: This was a powerhouse team. 

[00:35:40] Jessica Bennett: Like the Liberty our team in New York. Yeah. And the Storm, my hometown team. 

[00:35:43] Susie Banikarim: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the thing, right? Is that this was a truly remarkable team. You know, that is the story that sometimes got lost in the coverage of this at the time.

And others went on to have other careers, finance, healthcare, hospitality, whatever, but they had the lives they [00:36:00] always were meant to have, and they didn’t let this chapter derail them. And I think that is a really nice way to end it. And you know, I want to let Essence have the last word here about what she took away from this experience.

[00:36:13] Essence Carson: It showed that you can have a voice. No matter how small you are, even if it’s just you yourself, you can have a voice and you don’t have to be the subject of anyone’s jokes. You don’t have to be labeled that angry black woman. You can speak with eloquence. You can convey your thoughts in a way, in a manner, in which hits home with people.

You can focus on the similarities between individuals to bring people together rather than focus on the differences in order to drive them further apart. You can be great in your own right, no matter what it is that you do. And if you are given [00:37:00] talent that you’re born with, right, please make sure that you use it for good.

I think it just kind of changed what my outlook on life moving forward would be, a part of the purpose. It changed all those things and it happened at an early age. Would I rewrite the story? No, I wouldn’t because then I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t have the effect on people. The way that I do, just from learned experiences.

If I can use what I went through to help someone else, definitely would. That’s just a part of who I am now.

[00:37:38] Susie Banikarim: That feels like a really nice place to end it. Yeah, it does feel like a good place to end it. And I just want to thank Essence again for talking to me. I know that this is not a subject she loves talking about, and I really feel like we learned so much from her. 

[00:37:53] Jessica Bennett: Susie, you have a pretty personal episode coming up next week. What are we talking about? 

[00:37:57] Susie Banikarim: So next week, I’m going to talk to my friend and fellow [00:38:00] Iranian, Porochista Khakpour, who is a bestselling author, and we’re going to talk about the movie Not Without My Daughter, which was really one of the only representations of Iranians in popular culture when we were growing up.

And so we have a lot of opinions about it. 

[00:38:16] CLIPS: Occasionally people would ask me, have you seen it? I’d be like, yeah, yeah, of course. And then sometimes they would watch it and then they’d be like, wow, this is such a terrible movie. Why doesn’t everyone just ignore it? Except the era made it so that we couldn’t forget it.

[00:38:32] Susie Banikarim: This is in retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a pop culture moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram at In Retro Pod. 

[00:38:46] Jessica Bennett: If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it you can post nasty comments on our Instagram, which we may or may not delete. 

[00:38:55] Susie Banikarim: You can also find us on Instagram at Jessica Bennett and at Suzy B [00:39:00] NYC. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club, and This is 18. 

[00:39:04] Jessica Bennett: In Retrospect is a production of iHeart Podcasts and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer.

Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Emily Marinoff is our producer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer. 

[00:39:19] Susie Banikarim: Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith.

Additional editing help from Mary Dooe. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim 

[00:39:36] Jessica Bennett: and Jessica Bennett. We are also executive producers. For even more, check out Inretropod.com. See you next week!