Fred Grant’s phone began buzzing nonstop on a recent January afternoon.
Grant, the owner and manager of a small radio station in Houlton, Maine, was not watching the girls’ junior varsity basketball game live-streaming on WHOU 100.1 FM’s website.
But a few people who were viewing the game called Grant about an on-air conversation between two of his station’s broadcasters. Sports commentators Jim Carter and Steve Shaw had called some of the high school athletes overweight and laughed about it.
“Two girls out here, extremely overweight,” one of the men was overheard saying in a 34-second clip that was later posted to social media. “Awful.”
“How come you don’t get uniforms that fit the girls?” the other broadcaster said, followed by laughter.
Both men have since been terminated for making “comments that were not only inappropriate,” but also “blatantly wrong,” Grant said in a Facebook post a day after the incident. In the statement, he apologized for the broadcasters’ behavior and urged the rural community to shift its focus to uplifting the students who have continued playing sports during the pandemic.
“We broadcast and show the best of our community, and our students are going through an extremely challenging time,” Grant told The Washington Post. “The fact that any student is doing anything – performing, doing athletics – is what we are excited [and] proud about. . . . Our mission is to highlight the best of our students, and the statements [by Carter and Shaw] clearly didn’t uphold that mission. That’s extremely disappointing.”
Grant said he doesn’t know whether the commentators realized their microphones were on. Shaw declined to comment when reached by The Post. Carter did not respond to several messages.
In an interview with the Press Herald, however, Carter said he felt guilty for making the comments, adding that he had apologized to the superintendent of the district that oversees the girls’ high school.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Carter told the Press Herald. “Hopefully everybody can get through this and be OK.”
The incident quickly sparked outrage in the small community, drawing hundreds of social media comments. Many praised Grant for swiftly dismissing the two men. One person wrote, “The girls singled out in that video will NEVER forget that. It will stick with them for the rest of their lives … Their bodies never should have been a topic of discussion.”
The Houlton incident occurred days after counselors at a middle school in Southaven, Miss., sent out a memo titled “Why Do Girls Suffer from Body Image?” in which the school offered to provide shapewear to girls.
The memo, which asked parents to indicate what size their daughter would wear, also prompted a national conversation about commenting on girls’ bodies and weight. The school principal said the program has been canceled but that the counselors had good intentions.
The radio station in Maine has been live-streaming basketball games since 2011, when Grant purchased WHOU.
The station subcontracts most of its sports commentators, Grant said. That was the case for Carter, who he hired in December to broadcast basketball games. Carter then contacted Shaw, with whom he had worked in the past, to join him on air.
On Jan. 13, Grant said, Carter and Shaw sat together at an off-site location and connected to the station’s broadcasting system before the varsity game they were expected to cover. The men, who were watching a separate girls’ basketball game, did not turn off their microphones as expected, Grant said.
That’s when Carter and Shaw mocked some of the girls before erupting in laughter.
Later that night, Grant notified Carter that he and Shaw were being terminated.
“The idea of giving them a second chance never crossed my mind,” Grant told The Post. “There was no contemplation about it … It was clearly the right decision for us.”
The following day, Grant took to Facebook to apologize on behalf of the commentators and to announce that they no longer worked for the station. Grant told The Post he also called the players’ school to apologize for the broadcasters’ actions and to ask whether he could help in any way.
In the statement posted to Facebook, Grant asked those who shared the clip on social media to remove the content, “not to downplay the incident, but to better help all of our students move on to the important work and events in their lives.”
He added: “All of our students deserve our respect. Our students are living through the most challenging times in our history. Not only are they struggling through a pandemic, they also have the challenges of living in an age of social media.”