Three Atlanta-area radio hosts have been fired after mocking former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason in one of their on-air segments. Gleason is currently retired and battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Rick Mack, the senior vice president and general manager of 790 The Zone in Atlanta, issued a statement on the station's website to apologize. In the statement, Mack also highlighted the disciplinary action being taken against hosts Steak Shapiro, Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini.
We deeply regret the offensive programming that aired this morning on “Mayhem In The AM” on 790 The Zone, related to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS.
The three hosts mocked Gleason Monday by employing a robotic voice—which Gleason operates using his eyes in order to speak—and answered questions in a mock interview setting. The commentary ranged from offensive to downright horrific.
According to WWLTV in New Orleans, which picked up the story from a post at TigerDroppings.com, the hosts used knock-knock jokes in the segment, and at one point, the host speaking for Gleason openly wondered if he would be alive by Thursday.
You can listen to the shocking audio of the segment here, via WMTI-FM in New Orleans.
Gleason, 36, is best known for blocking a punt during the Saints' first home game following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. New Orleans went on to upset the Atlanta Falcons, and a statue commemorating his play now serves as a permanent symbol of the city's recovery.
In 2011, four years after retiring from the NFL, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. The disease has taken away his ability to speak, but he's been able to communicate using computer software despite his debilitating disease.
Gleason responded to the situation Tuesday over his Team Gleason Facebook page, per CBS News.
I would like to thank the public for their support. "Defend Team Gleason" now has been officially redefined. Additionally, the DJs have provided genuine apology. Received and accepted. We have all made mistakes in this life. How we learn from our mistakes is the measure of who we are.
As expected, the reaction to Gleason's mocking has been overwhelmingly negative. Scott Fujita, Gleason's former teammate in New Orleans, voiced his opinion over Twitter:
Others have had the same response:
An official apology from the station will only go so far in fixing this ugly situation. How three radio hosts—who work for the Atlanta Falcons' radio home, no less—thought a three-minute segment that poked fun at a human being with ALS would be fine to air is beyond comprehension.
The firing of the three hosts is likely only the start of an extensive cleanup process.