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John Desko & Lelan Rogers Sound Stupid in Defending Insensitive Comments

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.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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