Earlier this month, Fox baseball broadcaster Steve Lyons was fired for making a racially derogatory comment about colleague Lou Piniella’s Hispanic heritage on the air during the American League Championship Series. Although company policies vary, racially or sexually insensitive comments made at the workplace usually result in the offending employee’s termination. But not always. Isaiah Washington, one of the stars of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” got into a scuffle with his castmate Patrick Dempsey, after Washington allegedly made a negative comment about a fellow castmate T. R. Knight.
Washington reportedly called Knight a homophobic slur. Later that week, the actor, Knight, publicly announced that he is gay.
In a statement released to the press Oct. 25, Washington apologized for his actions and his “unfortunate use of words … both are beneath my own personal standards … and [I] have apologized personally to everyone involved.”
ABC has not announced any plans to either discipline Washington, or fire him, which has infuriated gay advocacy groups across the country. Shonda Rhimes, creator and executive producer of the show, told “People” magazine “It was four-and-a-half seconds of one day in three years,” Rhimes said. “I feel like we’ve already moved on.”
How nice for her. But imagine how different the situation would have been if the situation had involved a racial slur instead of a homosexual one.
The network would almost certainly have taken stronger action against the offending actor, and the producers of the show would almost certainly not be able to “move on.”
Simply because someone stars in a hit television show, or a $20 million movie star (remember Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant over the summer?) does not give he or she the right to use derogatory and offensive language. And he shouldn’t get away with it. We are a country that prides ourselves on our rights, particularly our right to free speech. But with that right, we have to be responsible for our words. We have to take the consequences, and dole them out accordingly, whenever our words cross the lines of decency.
So ABC, make an example of Washington.
Show that you won’t stand for any of your stars spewing hate, regardless of how much money they bring into your network.