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ESPN's Bonnie Bernstein Says Palestinian Kids Want to Be Suicide Bombers, Apologizes

Jun 27, 2008 – 5:01 PM
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Michael David Smith

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ESPN's Bonnie Bernstein was a guest on Mike and Mike in the Morning Wednesday, and when the subject turned to a high school basketball player who is considering playing professionally in Europe instead of going to college, Bernstein made an extremely odd comparison between American high school basketball players and Palestinian suicide bombers.

I've just reviewed the show in question and transcribed the full text of Bernstein's comments below.
It's sort of like, you know, and this isn't -- I'm prefacing this by saying this is in no way an analogy to sports because I know we live in a hypersensitive society -- but I remember a while ago I was reading an article in the New York Times about Palestinian suicide bombers and I just remember being struck by the notion that from the point of birth, people in Palestine are taught to think that dying in the name of God is a good thing.

They grow up wanting to be suicide bombers. So bringing it back to sports -- and again, I'm not making the comparison or the analogy -- if a young talented basketball player is being told at an early age that they are destined, it is a good thing to focus on basketball and not worry about what's going on in the classroom, why are any kids going to be worried about what's going on in the classroom?
Bernstein seemed to know that what she was saying would offend people, and sure enough, it did.

Ray Hanania of the National Arab-American Journalists Association sent this statement to the Mike and Mike show:
I think it was very inappropriate for Bonnie to use that racial stereotype of Palestinians as an example to back up her comments that NBA hopefuls "are programmed" to make it in the NBA the way Palestinian children are "programmed" to become suicide bombers ...

I don't need to explain that suicide bombers are not a race or ethnicity, or that there are 7 million Palestinians and have been only 50 suicide bombers over the past 15 years.
Obviously, Hanania is completely correct that Bernstein made an inappropriate comparison there. In fact, Bernstein seemed to realize the comparison she was making was inappropriate, which is why she hedged her comments "I'm not making the comparison," even though that was exactly what she was doing.

But if you think it's strange that Bernstein would go on and make that analogy even as she said she realized that people might be offended by it, you'll find her apology even stranger. has posted the audio of her apology:

"Hi, this is Bonnie Bernstein, and I'd just like to take a minute to apologize for making a connection this morning on Mike and Mike between Palestinians and the adults who influence the thinking of many young NBA prospects. I was a student athlete who was lucky enough to have part of my college expenses paid for by a scholarship, and so I've always embraced the importance of higher education.

That said, it upsets me greatly -- as I think you can tell, if you heard the interview -- when I hear about adults telling impressionable kids, 'Don't worry about school, your future is in the NBA.' These stories just lend credence to the notion one is often a product of his environment, and while I emphasized that twice during our discussion, in hindsight I realize it was simply a mistake to bring Palestine into the discussion at all, and for that, I apologize again.

Lesson learned: Religion and politics have no place on public airwaves at a sports network. That's definitely a credo I will live by from this point forward. Thanks and have a great day."

The apology sounds half-hearted, and it glosses over what Bernstein actually said to instead create the false impression that what Bernstein did wrong is simply to discuss religion and politics. With all due respect, Ms. Bernstein, if the lesson you've learned is that religion and politics have no place on a sports network, you haven't learned any lesson at all.

There's nothing wrong with discussing religion and politics on a sports network. Indeed, it would be impossible to completely cover the sports world without exploring the way sports intersects with religion and politics.

What's wrong is that Bernstein took such a serious matter as Palestinian suicide bombers and applied it so flippantly. And what's even worse is that she suggested that all Palestinians are taught that being a suicide bomber is something to aspire to, which is patently false. For that, she did not apologize. She should.

UPDATE: The National Arab American Journalists Association called Bernstein's statement "a genuine apology that expressed ESPN's and Dr. Bernstein's embrace of diversity and fairness" and added Bernstein to its Honor List.

Via Deadspin.
Filed under: Sports