Radio station fires crew for mocking ill ex-Coug

McClatchy news servicesJune 18, 2013 

Ex-Washington State and New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, announcing the Saints’ third-round draft pick in April, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011. Gleason can communicate only by using a computer program that tracks his eye movement.

MARY ALTAFFER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The hosts of an Atlanta sports radio show have been fired after mocking former Washington State standout and NFL player Steve Gleason, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The show, Mayhem in the AM, was broadcast on WQXI-AM “790 The Zone” on Monday. In a statement, station general manager Rick Mack said the station regrets comments made about ex-New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, a Spokane native who played football and baseball at WSU from 1995-2000.

The 36-year-old suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS patients lose the ability to speak and move, which has happened to Gleason.

Hosts Nick Cellini, Steak Shapiro and Chris Dimino were fired because of the segment, during which Shapiro and Dimino took a call from Cellini, who pretended to be Gleason by using a voice that sounded automated — mimicking another famous ALS patient, physicist and author Stephen Hawking.

The fake Gleason told a series of knock-knock jokes and eventually asked the two others to do him a favor by smothering him.

Listeners and critics turned to the station’s Facebook page to call for the hosts’ termination.

All three hosts took to Twitter on Monday evening to apologize to Gleason and his family, as well as fans and others who criticized the segment.

“I love the people and city of New Orleans, always have, always will, @team_gleason I will work tirelessly to make this up to you,” Shapiro tweeted, referring to Team Gleason, a foundation named after Gleason and geared toward finding a cure for ALS and raising awareness of the disease.

Cellini tweeted that he had apologized to Gleason’s wife, Michel, that he will “do my best to help Team Gleason” and “Got what I deserved.”

The radio segement came on the same day that a guest column written by Gleason — who used a computer program that tracks his eye movement — was published on Sports Illustrated’s website.

Gleason, a graduate of Gonzaga Prep, played for the Saints between 2000-06.

He is most well known for blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown early in the Saints’ game to reopen the Louisiana Superdome, Sept. 25, 2006, after Hurricane Katrina. The play sparked a 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons and has been immortalized by a statue titled “Rebirth,” which stands in front of the Superdome.

WRITERS HONOR PAGANO

Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has won the George Halas Award from the Professional Football Writers Association for overcoming adversity.

Early in his first season as Colts coach, Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and took a leave of absence. The team began winning under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians while Pagano underwent treatment for 12 weeks. Pagano worked from his hospital bed on game plans and analyzing practices even as he was recovering from the disease.

He returned to coach the final regular-season game, a victory over Houston that gave the Colts an 11-5 record.

The team also began a CHUCKSTRONG campaign, with proceeds going toward leukemia research.

EXTRA POINTS

Former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli will join NBC’s Sunday night studio show, “Football Night in America.” … The Bengals will star in HBO’s training camp documentary show “Hard Knocks” this season, starting Aug. 6. The Bengals also were featured on the show in 2009. … The Packers released linebacker Desmond Bishop, who was due to make $3.464 million this season.

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