NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- More than a week after they were thrust into the middle of a national debate on race, gender, and power spurred by derogatory comments by radio host Don Imus, the Rutgers University women's basketball team yesterday said it has accepted his apology.
"We, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knight basketball team, accept -- accept -- Mr. Imus's apology, and we are in the process of forgiving," Coach C. Vivian Stringer read from a team statement yesterday. "We still find his statements to be unacceptable, and this is an experience that we will never forget," she said.
The team met with Imus for three hours on Thursday night at the governor's mansion in Princeton, shortly after Imus was fired from his radio show by CBS.
Several Rutgers players declined to comment on the meeting, but a person who attended the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting, said emotions ran high, with tears on both sides. Imus did not shed any, but his wife, Deirdre, did, according to the person at the meeting, and she hugged each of the players individually.
Stringer opened the meeting with a statement and was followed by Imus, then by the players and some of the parents, the person said.
After the meeting, the team voted on whether or not to accept Imus's apology.
At a news conference later yesterday, the Rev. DeForest Soaries, Stringer's pastor, announced a plan to hold a town meeting within 30 days on the Rutgers campus involving educators, entertainers, young people, and clergy to address a culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."
"No African-American leader, no national leader, should consider this a victory," Soaries said in reference to Imus's firing. "We have to begin working on a response to the larger problem."
Imus's Thursday night meeting with the team came only hours after CBS fired him from the radio show that he has hosted for nearly 30 years.
Sponsors had been dropping the show. MSNBC announced Wednesday that it would no longer simulcast the program.
Stringer said the team's goal was never to get Imus fired.
"It's sad for anyone to lose their job," she said.
It was a dramatic fall for Imus, who had survived many controversies over the year s and was once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine.
The controversy over Imus's comments, meanwhile, has sparked another consequence: Governor Jon S. Corzine was critically injured in a car crash while heading to the governor's mansion in Princeton for the Thursday meeting.
The team received news about Corzine's auto accident before the meeting began, said Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick, who was present at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion.
"The governor's staff was exceedingly gracious and hospitable to us, even though their heads and hearts were with him," McCormick said.
McCormick described a meeting in which Imus offered what McCormick characterized as a "heartfelt apology," and in which players, their parents, and coaches also spoke.
"He apologized and explained his remarks as best he could," McCormick said. "It was heartfelt."
The team members respected Imus's willingness to apologize, especially in light of the fact that he had already been fired by CBS, Stringer said.
The source of the controversy involved comments Imus made April 4 when he called the Rutgers players -- eight of whom are black -- "nappy-headed hos." The remarks were made the day after Rutgers lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game, the culmination to a season that saw them come back from some devastating early season losses.
Stringer wouldn't comment about potential hate mail received from Imus fans.
Asked about the hate mail, Rutgers team spokeswoman Stacey Brann said the team had received "two or three e-mails" but had also received "over 600 wonderful e-mails."
Taking over her husband's radio fund-raiser yesterday morning, Deirdre Imus demanded that all hate mail being sent to the team stop, praising the Rutgers women as "beautiful and courageous."
"They gave us the opportunity to listen to what they had to say and why they're hurting and how awful this is," Deirdre Imus said as she cohosted the fund-raiser for children's charities.
"He feels awful," she said of her husband. "He asked them, 'I want to know the pain I caused, and I want to know how to fix this and change this.' "
"I have to say that these women are unbelievably courageous and beautiful women," she said.