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Opinion: Is 'The Big One' big enough to apologize?


Lots of questions remain after Bob Huggins accepts pay cut and suspension for homophobic comments made on WLW-AM's 'Bill Cunningham Show' Monday.

Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Huggins has done the right thing after making a homophobic sluron WLW-AM's Bill Cunningham Show Monday.

In 48 hours he issued two apologies; accepted a three-game suspension; took a $1-million pay cut; promised to attend sensitivity training; and vowed to donate to Xavier University.

So why hasn't Cunningham, station management or owner iHeartMedia done the right thing?

Why haven't they apologized for broadcasting the remark? Or apologized for Cunningham's raucous laughter after Huggins said the toxic word which ended Thom Brennaman's TV career three years ago?

Premiere Networks
Bill Cunningtham marks his 40th anniversary at WLW-AM in August.

Why are Cunningham and WLW-AM stonewalling? Are they hoping we'll forget this ugliness by the time Cunningham returns later this month from a 10-day trip to the Holy Land?

And why weren't Huggins' awful words bleeped by Cunningham or his producer? Wasn't the live talk show on a seven-second delay?

Is "The Big One" too big to admit it made a horrible mistake allowing the word to go out over the airwaves? Over our public airwaves, which WLW-AM is licensed to use by the federal government?

Questions, questions, questions.

Are the folks at WLW-AM afraid that if they told the truth — and acknowledged that word is repulsive and definitely no laughing matter — that its core white male audience wouldn't believe them? Do they fear their loyal listeners, fed Cunningham's conservative rants for years, would find another station, the way Donald Trump supporters left Fox News Channel after they were told the truth about the 2020 election instead of what they wanted to hear?

When Thom Brennaman was caught saying that same slur into an open mic during a break in a Reds TV broadcast in 2020, the club yanked him off the air in the middle of the inning. Remember how the Reds that night issued a statement calling it a "horrific, homophobic remark" and declaring that "the Reds embrace a zero-tolerance policy for bias or discrimination of any kind"?

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins watches from the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins watches from the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.

Have the Reds dropped the zero-tolerance policy? Or is it OK for the Reds 50,000-watt flagship station to broadcast that same slur this week — and not apologize to listeners? And not sanction the host who laughed at Huggins' remark, and then said Huggins was "the best…. The best ever"?

Did you read Huggins' Wednesday apology, his second in 48 hours?

"Over the past 48 hours,I have reflected on the awful wordsthat I shared on a radio program earlier this week. I deeply regret my actions, the hurt they unfairly caused others … I also regret the embarrassment and disappointment it has caused… (and) I am sorry for the hurt and distress I have caused our students and our student-athletes… It pains me to know that I have let so many people down. I have no excuse for the language I used…"

It doesn't sound like the West Virginia University basketball coach thinks he was at his best — the best ever! — on Cunningham's show Monday. Does Cunningham, a Catholic and Xavier grad, still think the offensive slur is funny?

Another question: Are WLW-AM advertisers — including the sponsors for Reds, Bengals, UC and Xavier games — OK with their radio broadcaster letting this remark pass without contrition or consequences?

Xavier President Colleen Hanycz said Wednesday that Huggins' "deplorable mischaracterizations and homophobic slursdirected toward our LBGQT+ and Catholic communities were repulsive and offensive." WLW-AM reported her comments — and Huggins' apology and punishment — in newscasts Wednesday as if the station didn't bear any responsibility for listeners in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana hearing the repugnant words.

And what about Cunningham laughing at what Hanycz called "hateful words" on the station which will broadcast XU games this fall? Is Cincinnati's top-rated station laughing all the way to the bank?

Proclaiming himself "the Great American," Cunningham has for years ridiculed and insulted anyone who disagreed with his conservative views: Democrats, liberals, environmentalists, progressives and particularly politicians named Biden, McCain, Clinton or Obama. That's been his schtick for 40 years.

But laughing at an ugly slur? Doesn't that cross the line?

A very contrite — but still employed — Huggins said Wednesday that he was "looking forward to working with WVU's LGBTQ+ Center and other state organizations to learn more about the issues facing the community. As a leader, I am eager to use my platform to take what I learn and share it with a broader audience."

Should we construe WLW-AM's silence as the station protecting its 50,000-watt platform and revenues? Has the station learned anything from this ugly incident?

Another question: Did you also hear Huggins announce Wednesday that he's making a "personal donation to (Xavier) university to support its Center for Faith and Justice and its Center for Diversity and Inclusion to further the work it does and the impact it has on its students"?

Maybe Cunningham, who joked with Huggins that XU basketball held a "transgender night," should also write a check to XU's Center for Diversity and Inclusion?

Or should Cunningham be forced to check out the center to see the work it does and the impact it has on students?

Maybe he could he join Huggins at sensitivity training?

Earlier this week, I wrote that Bill Cunningham deserves the same fate of Bob Huggins. I stand by that statement.

But wouldn't you be satisfied if Cunningham and his bosses merely followed Huggins' lead and apologized for the insensitive ugliness on the Bill Cunningham Show Monday?

Or is The Big One not big enough to apologize?

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.