Two ESPN radio hosts have been temporarily suspended for "intolerance and insensitivity" in speaking on-air last week about Fremont transsexual basketball player Gabrielle Ludwig, sparking outrage in the LGBT community.
It is the most publicized backlash Ludwig has faced since the 50-year-old joined the Mission College women's basketball team, but not the only one. In fact, Ludwig told a blog this week the criticism has led her to contemplate quitting the team and has prompted the Santa Clara school to increase security at games.
Ludwig sparked debate across the country after the Bay Area News Group and other media outlets told her story, highlighting the fact the Desert Storm veteran may be the first athlete to play collegiate sports first as a man then as a woman. Ludwig, who stands 6 feet, 8 inches, had surgery to become a woman in July. She played in her first game Dec. 1.
Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin -- hosts working for a Washington D.C.-based station affiliated with sports media giant ESPN -- joked about Ludwig for almost three minutes during a show segment Dec. 6.
"That's a man, baby," yelled Chris Knoche, a guest of the show.
"Oh my God," Knoche said. "That could be a Russian chick. ... So how does this work? You lose testicles and gain eligibility?"
The hosts continued.
"The net-net is she/he has had a lot of problems in his/her life ... " Pollin said.
"I think 'it' is the politically correct term," Czaban said.
At the beginning of their Monday show, the pair issued a 10-second apology, saying no human should be called an "it."
By Tuesday, ESPN980 released this statement: "We strongly believe two of our employees crossed the line when discussing a transsexual person on their program last Thursday. Such intolerance and insensitivity will never be tolerated by this company. Due to the nature of their conversation, the pair have been temporarily removed from ESPN980's Sports Reporters program."
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz released a statement to Outsports.com, which said in part, "We have expressed our significant dissatisfaction to the station's management."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have also criticized the hosts.
Ludwig did not return a call and email requesting comment but spoke to Outsports.com.
"These two people in Washington, D.C., just tore my life apart, and they don't even know me," Ludwig told the website. "They did it in respect to how I look, how I'm built, the tattoos on my body. They took great pride in humiliating me in the national public. I don't know if I'm supposed to cry or scream or beat them up. It's affecting my sleep; it's affecting my confidence."
Ludwig added that she has considered quitting the team because of the backlash but said her coach and teammates won't let her. She also said Mission College has hired extra security and provided her a special parking lot to help ensure her safety during games and practices.
"If I have to take a beating for it, it's worthwhile," she told the website.
It hasn't all been negative for Ludwig, though. The Lassen College women's basketball team invited Ludwig into their locker room after Saturday's game and took pictures with her and posted them on their Facebook page, saying, "This is one of the nicest players we've ever played, and you can't judge a book by its cover." It brought Ludwig to tears.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.