John Desko & Lelan Rogers Sound Stupid in Defending Insensitive Comments

Neither coach is helping the program in their clunky attempts at explaining racial insensitivity.

Gary Waits/ Syracuse Post-Standard

Update: 6:55a Tuesday. Desko’s response to a question about the incident over the weekend was, “We’ve already addressed that and we’re moving on at this point. That’s all I really have to say about that.” This feels like a lazy way to bury the story. I understand not wanting to fan the flames, and just before the national championship game is poor timing when it comes to distractions. But Desko should be given the opportunity following the season to explain what happened here, and how it was addressed internally. Desko sat down for an interview with the New York Times, and was quoted on record about the incident. But we have no idea what else he said about the matter in that office.

I’d personally like to know why Desko would sit down for the Times, but not fully explain anything else to other outlets. I think it’s important SU addresses the idiocy of Rogers statement: “I meant (‘colored’) in a good way.”  Whether it’s Gross or someone else, the university should state, “There is no ‘good way’ to be racially insensitive.” My guess is when Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson come back to campus this fall, no one in the athletic office will call them “colored” and then rationalize, “I meant it in a good way!” 

Own your actions, understand the ramifications, and don’t use lame excuses to lessen the responsibility. Come on Leland, I expect my alma mater to be better than that.

Gross’ statement also sheds no light on how it was addressed, and whether Rogers and Desko understand the severity of the comments. During Final Four weekend is not necessary. But at some point now that the season is over it should be explained. My guess is, SU will sweep it under the rug, and this is the end of it.

Posted: D.A.

* * *

I’ve always respected John Desko. I’ve sat in many Desko press conferences. I’ve interviewed him one-on-one. I have the ultimate regard for the Syracuse lacrosse program, and am constantly astonished at its tradition of success. But Desko and Lelan Rogers sound out of touch.

Rogers admitted in a New York Times piece published Friday that he once used the term “colored” to describe an opponent. Junior midfielder Drew Jenkins said he considered boycotting the next game. He eventually decided against it. He did ask an apology from Rogers.

“I didn’t mean it in a derogatory way,” Rogers said. “I made a comment  – an inappropriate comment. It was wrong at the time. I apologized there, on the spot. I apologized again to the team later. I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I meant it in a good way. But obviously it came across not in a positive way.”

The right way to handle this is by apologizing and moving on. Glad he did that. I know first hand the high wire act of having your every word dissected. I’ve hosted a daily sports talk radio show for more than 12 years now. The network that employs me has more than 130 affiliates (including the Score 1260 in Syracuse) in two countries. You slip up, you say something in the heat of the moment, someone is there to jump all over you. I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve apologized. I sympathize.

But Rogers saying he meant to use the term “colored” in a “good way” is insulting. What does that even mean? In what century do we live in where that has a positive racial connotation?

Desko didn’t help the cause.

Syracuse Coach John Desko, who has been a member of the Orange coaching staff since 1980, sat next to Rogers for an interview in Desko’s office. He acknowledged that he was not always sure what was or was not acceptable language when it came to race.

“Sometimes I think you find it confusing if you have to call someone an Afro-American or have to describe somebody,” Desko said. “I am sometimes myself confused on what is appropriate and what isn’t.”

Yes, the phrase “people of color” has become acceptable terminology. “Colored” is not. But that’s not a hard distinction to remember for someone in Desko’s shoes. As a head coach of a powerhouse program, and one of the most influential voices in college lacrosse, how can you not educate yourself in what is preferred nomenclature? You think Jim Boeheim would ever hide behind this flimsy excuse?

“Yeah, sorry I offended C.J., Rakeem, Michael, Brandon, Baye and the rest of my team. I didn’t know whether to call them colored or Afro-American.” 

This is a clunky attempt at supporting his assistant coach, and it comes off as block-headed and archaic. You run a D1 program, you have coached African-American players. Former SU star Jovi Miller just made national news challenging a major lax equipment manufacturer of racial insensitivity. Maybe he should pick up the phone and call Jovi to go over some terminology.

I don’t think Desko and Rogers are running some type of overtly racist program. Hakeem Lecky says he’s “never personally experienced any situations in which he felt ostracized or uncomfortable because of his race.” It’s just that Desko and Rogers should know what is acceptable and what is not. And if they mess up, you apologize and own it. You don’t rationalize it with “I meant it in a good way.” I damn well know on the public airwaves I’d sound like a complete dope if I ever used “colored” to describe a player. I’d be a bigger moron if I said I meant it in a “positive way.” Desko and Rogers should figure it out.

Posted: D.A.

43 Comments on this Post

  1. orangeinva

    “I don’t think Desko and Rogers are running some type of overtly racist program”

    Interesting…does that mean you could be convinced they are at a later date?

    Or maybe right now they are running a mildly racist program but it’s not overt.

    “complete dope”..”bigger moron”
    Maybe the shoe fits.

  2. Russell MacEachern

    I wish we’d avoid these “political” articles. When many of us grew up in the 50s,60s,and 70s colored was the acceptable or prefered parlance or term before black or african-american!PC gone wild!!everyone is assuming the worst in everyone instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt!JMO!

  3. Heap smoke, no fire. IMO overly supersensitivity to “colored” or “people of color” or African American” or “Negro” or “Black” makes little sense for none are usually spoken with a derogatory meaning. There are other words to call a particular race derogatorily and one would know it. Using the above names seems to me to be harmless and much to do about nothing but PC overreaction

  4. Frank

    Everyone is human,and everyone has a description of which was placed on humans a long long time ago by humans. If you have a problem with the way a human describes another human then sit down and discuss your problem with that human. But you cannot change the past, which is history written or unwritten, no matter how hard someone tries. DA your reporting of this on this site is terrible. Leave to the Post Standard/NY Times as you are making an issue out of a non issue!

  5. Shane

    Please because a coach called a black person colored. This is an over reaction from people who are sensitive. The dopes of this world are the ones who come down from their mountain tops in situations like this asking for heads to be chopped off.

  6. Dr. bill

    Only the group that is being described can define what is offensive to them. When will we as Americans learn that. When Native Americans say the team name..”Red Skins” is offensive to them, the non Native American owner …and other non Native Americans can not say: That name is not offensive…we mean it as a term of honor….REALLY? If African Americans are saying they find the term Colored offensive, then it is offensive, apologize and move on!

  7. Why is this subject even on this website? Is being called “colored” any different than a black person calling us “white crackers”?

    If you haven’t been around a group of black teenagers talking to one another listening to them call each other “N—-RS,then everyone ought to keep their mouths shut.

    When your in a discussion with a black American you don’t have to be color blind to see that he or she is a person that comes from and has a different heritage than you. So why not find out their names and call them by their proper name when carring on a discussion with them?

    Political Correctness is destroying this country,people are trying to say what we can and can’t say to each other.

    D.A., the only way that this story gets any traction at all is because of people who like you put it in print and then have the nerve to publizie it. You ought to be ashamed for doing so and if anyone apologizes for it,it should by you.

    Do us all a favor and please keep this website to Syracuse Athletics.

  8. Big Blue

    PC policing has gone too far. When people allow others to offend themselves, they are giving that person power over them. Personally, I choose not to allow others to have that power over me. Was using the term “colored” out of step with the more contemporary “African American” ? Perhaps. Was it worthy of an article in the NY Times? Not really. Lacrosse is still a sport played at the collegiate levels by mainly relatively affluent white kids. For this reason (as exhibited by the rush to condemn the Duke Lacrosse team) it will always be a target of the PC police at places like the NY Times. Too bad the Times uses the opportunity of the final four weekend to sow racial division, instead of celebrate the great game of the Iroquois-our original sport.

  9. As much as I appreciate all the readership to this site, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, I strongly disagree that this is a non-issue. Desko is a leader, in both college lacrosse and SU’s athletic dept. He should be expected to understand the difference in what is offensive and not, especially if I do. Also, for Leland to say he meant “colored” in a good way is beyond stupid. Give me one example of that in use anywhere.

    @Ron – I’m sorry you think I should apologize for this, but when you say “keep this website to Syracuse athletics” – that’s exactly what I’m doing. These comments directly affected SU athletics – a player asked for an apology from a coach, and almost boycotted the team.

    @Shane – I never asked for anyone’s “heads to be chopped off.” This is my opinion of the coaches that are employed by the athletic department of my alma mater. I spent four years there, give back time and money to my school, and this is how I feel about them. I think they come off as dolts.

    @Russell – I understand this article can be uncomfortable, but that’s also what happened when Leland made those comments (both originally and to the Times). I find it to be an important topic, and SU brings it on itself. If Leland and Desko own it, apologize, move on I wouldn’t feel this way.

    As always I appreciate all the comments, because I always want this site to be a forum for all opinions – including my own. I spend a lot of time, money and effort making sure this site remains open, and free of charge so everyone can read and contribute to the conversation.

    Thanks for dropping by,

  10. Big Blue

    DA, appreciate the concern but perhaps Desko and Rogers come off as “Dolts” because that is the way the NY Times wrote the article. Desko has never been an overly articulate guy imo. Being in the media you can surely appreciate the value of context. Rogers apparently did apologize on the spot and attempt to move on as he realized his comment was offensive to some. I’m not apologizing for his choice of words but let’s be real: what is appropriate terminology for describing blacks in this country changes with each generation, and there is an inherent double standard as to which race is allowed to use certain words to describe each other. That’s a fact. It can be confusing to some generations as to which word choice is appropriate or not. Do we condemn people and brand them as racists for what is on the surface, an honest mistake? Being a racist is one of the most damaging things you can call a person in our society and should be used sparingly for those who truly deserve the title. Not knowing either of these men personally I say give them the benefit of the doubt instead of publicly calling them names. You say “if Leland and Desko own it, apologize, move on I wouldn’t feel this way”. Isn’t that in fact what they have done?

  11. Shane

    @DA I was not talking about you regarding chopping their heads off. But I understand where you are coming from with your alma mater getting bad publicity, you should be ashamed. But also remember this you, yourself is also being discrimitory when you are calling these kids African American if in fact they are not from Africa. Africans that come to this country are highly offended that Blacks in this country get that designation. After all white people are not called Euro-American.

    But as a “LIFE” long fan of SU athletics I see it as a slip of the tongue, he apologized and we should move on. People make mistakes. Would you rather be a Rutgers alum?

  12. Ethan

    shocked by the insensitivity of this forum right now.

    Why is finding out what way to call a person of a different heritage socially acceptable important? In this case, someone took offense to the situation at hand and who are we to call this a non issue. The way the coaches went about it makes it worse too. “Colored” is historically used for segregating between blacks and whites like colored bathrooms or in stadiums the colored seats, saying it refers to times of struggle and it isnt right no matter how we use it. Desko not knowing what way to call is plain stupid, idk coach maybe use the number of the player, your scouting a team they have a uniform. We don’t need to use descriptive words based on color, its just unacceptable and everyone knows that.

  13. Duany

    “John Desko & Leland Rogers Sounds Stupid”


  14. Good catch Duany. Corrected. @Big Blue – like I said, the apology was the right tenor from these guys. It was the “but I meant it in a good way” that as Ethan writes, makes Leland sound like a dope. And I’m proud to be an SU alum – but that doesnt mean I cant criticize it when I disagree with their decisions. We all have a voice and an opinion that shouldnt be clouded by fandom. @Shane – And I have yet to hear anyone react negatively to the term “African-American.” If you find that somewhere, let me know. But that’s preferred terminology among minority groups. Thanks guys!

  15. BigSplash(dip)

    1. Oinva… interesting
    2. Russ… its 2013, subtle racism is wack OG
    3. WsaltineW… listen to kanye’s “black skinhead” lol
    4. Frank… TERRIBLE??? Its his first unbiased article.. BUENO
    5. Shane… how about..” go check the JEW, or guard the HONKY!” Lmbo
    6. Doc bill… so true like many generation of holocaust survivors
    7. Ron… BECAUSE ITS &%$#!@ relevant… that’d why!
    8. Big blue.. house nigga talk? Stop making excuses for racists…lame!
    9. DA .. got it right! Expose Syracuse racism… I respect you.
    10. Ethan.. me too nigga?
    11. Duany… very!!!!

    * I could give two craps.. the guy described an opponent as colored, he’s RACIST, we can move on….BUT when u make EXCUSES for racism SU fans, you’re worst than the dummy who created the idea…

    ** IF you don’t like that People mag exposed the coach, SU should not hire racsist…..don’t blame DA for America’s sad history….. THAT TO MY SURPRISE… OBVIOUSLY SOME OF YOU SUPPORT!!! DA report how you would raise your son.. honestly & just! Sounds cheesy but look what you uncovered….


    – a gift from Dip

  16. BigSplash(dip)

    “Y’all white n***as is bugging, subtle racsim is old.” I’ll teach you how ta be respectful… aka the ENGLISH LANGUAGE!

    1. African- american….newer, very acceptable, a background
    2. Black…. older, very acceptable, you are or aren’t, sense of power
    3. Negroe… ancient term, not acceptable, slave given
    4. N****… Slave owner term, not acceptable, ex: Toby
    5. N****a… newer, very acceptable, slang for anybody alive, even you

    6. Colored… oldish, not acceptable, EX: APARTHEID…S.AFRICA

    * that coach sure had choices… or could’ve used “him” “your guy” “#?”……..the list is long……

  17. Russell MacEachern

    I like the way you think and express neff,big props to bigdip!!I know the year “13” neff but Jim Crowe seems to be on its last legs and dies hard but as you know, rascists on this board (at least the core group)!!Nice post Dip!!

  18. BigSplash(dip)

    Realism is our Lord @UncRuss… between ranting, some socioeconomics is sprinkled in, the point being : don’t defend bigotry, tyranny, or idiots who offend their own players, and former players. Colored also means SID SMITH, JOVAN MILLER, & Cory Jamieson… who are black & Indian, or native American & African American.. & proud SU alums! But men first ..

    … HAIL the SU assistant!!!!!! GET IT YET? Its in bad taste… FIRE THE GUY

  19. BigSplash(dip)

    I’m going to tweet JIM BROWN and ask should this coach have his job?

  20. Shane

    @DA I live across the street from a lady who is a refugee from Africa, and has personally said to me that her and her friends are offended by it.

    I dont want to say her direct qoutes because it might offend people. In the end one person may see a problem with it and the next does not. Its a slippery slope sometimes. Just like discussing politics and religion.

    But I do enjoy reading your article. With the resources you guys have you do a wonderful job getting articles out and informing us on SU related news. So thank you very much.

  21. Carlton

    OMG this blog and SU athletics is full of racist ppl! Get them all quick! Someone will always be offend. If I was a coach I would avoid making any comments about gender, race or sexual orientation b/c someone will have a problem /w how its used. Best to stay away from those kinds of remarks period otherwise liberals will come get you!

  22. Shane, thanks. Glad you enjoy reading the site. I enjoy running it. @Carlton – this isn’t about over sensitivity. It’s about the stupidity of saying you meant to use “colored” in a good way. That’s flat out lying to my face by Leland Rogers and no one at SU is holding him accountable. No one ever uses that term in a good way in 2013.

  23. Big Blue

    DA, I agree with you that the problem as Shane writes is the “I meant it in a good way” follow up quote from Rogers. None of us know what is in anyone’s heart or what Rogers meant when he used the term “colored”. To me, it sounds like panic set in for Rogers and he realized he had just profoundly screwed up and saw his career ending right in front of his eyes. He probably should have quit talking at that point, but such is the fear that being branded a racist can cause.

    -Big Dipper- I am not excusing Rogers being ignorant of current racial terminology but I am suggesting forgiving him for it. Labeling people “racist” when they may simply be ignorant only serves to broaden our divides and not bring us closer together. Offering genuine forgiveness is the only way to break the endless cycle of racial division.

  24. He said “colored” and people are making this big of a deal out of it? Some people need to grow up and stop being so sensitive.

  25. Big Blue

    DM is right.

  26. Hey everyone,you all need tyo click on the link provided by RE and read the story. Hit’s the heart of our subject dead center. Don McPherson so much more to the man thanonce being a powerful college quarterback.

    Thank you Don McPherson for setting a few airheads straight. People need to lighten up a little and regain a sense of humor and become an adult.

  27. I agree with Don McPherson (as usual). The guy has a great head on his shoulders. As I wrote in my original piece, I dont think SU is running a racist program. My issue is with Rogers being allowed to say he “meant it in a good way” and there not being a follow up or accountability by SU for him. Him and Desko are allowed to not face any more questions about it. Which means that’s a passable excuse… which I just dont think it is. And Ron, a “sense of humor”? Where’s the sense of humor in this? Was Rogers telling a joke when he said it?

  28. people are too damn serious in todays society,young people or should I say people of all ages should smile more and have some fun. Reporters are taking peoples comments out of context adding a few words of their own and distorting the original comment way out of proportion.

    You out of all people DA made the point that he should be let go from his job. But see coming from the great State of Massachusetts and living in Boston,I really do understand your point of view and where your coming from.

    Over the weekend we had a person post what’s acceptable language in todays society. The word “nigga and nigger” is acceptable as long as the black population uses it. Well in my experiences DA,I’ve told young black people to stop using those words because to me it’s a double standard.

    If your in a discussion with a black individual learn his or her name and call them by their proper name instead of using words that have been described by others as acceptable.

    I came from a different generation DA than you and I want to leave you with these names ok,

    Mr.& Mrs. Walter Jennings;their children
    Jim,WalterJR,Paul,Tom,David,Sheldon,Grace, Sheilla,Eileen,Brenda,and Diane.

    That was a black family that I grew up with and had as friends and still have as friends the remaining members of that family. Colored,nigga or niggers were never used ever when I was in their presence or otherwise. People need to grow up period. They need to regain a sense of humor and start laughing againg.

    Take it as you wish,in your world I must be a racist,in my world I’m just being honest and tell ing the rest of you to jusy grow up.

  29. BrandNewDip

    @Ron… I said every “white” person is a nigga too! Its acceptable in the English language… “white nigga” … Wats wrong wit dat? Negroes is also Anglo- Saxons too, or are white people not European now?

    …during sporting events BETWEEN KIDS, unfogiveable… f*ck dat punk coach and every supporter of his! This is a NY state of mind, not the Mormon state! That passive aggressive: be good people and be quiet sh*t is old…. f*ck dat……….supporting that coach is WACK!!!!

  30. BrandNewDip

    Nigga is part of the English language @Ron… like the 1st amendment! Don’t change black culture with your ideas, change America…oh, you’re powerless? Change “you” first like MJ said…

    Question: Wats worse…1. Young minority saying NIGGA, or
    2. A collegiate coach using COLORED?

    * your answer may result in being labelled something objectively disrespect?

  31. most outstanding athletes are black if i was playing a sport and someone said you run like a black man i would take it as a complement. so DA fuck off because Lelan is a good guy

  32. Hey DA ur a piece of shit kill your self he was describing a player on a team haha that’s funny u prick

  33. by the way you your radio station sucks major dick

  34. Rogers is from Fulton and we hate all Blacks.

  35. Spade, Monkey, whatever we know what you mean Leland.

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