Limbaugh stands by McNabb remarks
(CNN) -- Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused critics Wednesday of stirring up a "tempest" about his television sports commentary belittling the performance of black Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Limbaugh has not apologized even as complaints mount.
In Washington, a black member of Congress and two Democratic presidential candidates called on Limbaugh's bosses to fire him for remarks that McNabb himself characterized Wednesday as "somewhat shocking."
McNabb, a three-time pro football all star who has steered the Eagles to two straight NFC title games, said he was bothered that Limbaugh's co-commentators in the ESPN broadcast booth -- two of them black former players -- did not challenge Limbaugh.
An ESPN spokesman said the network has expressed its displeasure to Limbaugh over his comments.
"Although Mr. Limbaugh stated today that his comments had no racist intent whatsoever, we have communicated to Mr. Limbaugh that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate," spokesman Dave Nagle said in a statement.
Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" that the fifth-year quarterback out of Syracuse University is overrated because of his race.
McNabb has been criticized for the Eagles' shaky 1-2 start this season. But Limbaugh said, "I don't think he's been that good from the get-go."
"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL," Limbaugh said. "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tennessee, issued a news release urging ESPN to fire Limbaugh.
The talk show host gained fame as a pioneer among outspoken conservative radio shows but started his first season as a football commentator for ESPN a few weeks ago.
"Rush Limbaugh's remarks were insensitive and stupid," Ford said. "They were far beneath the standard that ESPN has set over the years for legitimate and thoughtful sports broadcasting. He should be fired."
Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark echoed that sentiment.
"That comment is outrageous, has no place in modern America. We've heard enough, that's it," said the retired Army general who was on the stump in Los Angeles.
"He should be fired. When someone makes comments like that, that are so obviously racially prejudiced. We don't tolerate that in modern American society. We certainly didn't tolerate it in the U.S. Army and we don't tolerate it here. It's wrong," Clark said.
Limbaugh took on his critics on the popular "Rush Limbaugh Show" that is syndicated in 650 radio markets worldwide.
He said critics have made the issue bigger than it should be and that all he was doing was comparing McNabb's reputation on the field to his reputation "in the media."
"It isn't racist. It's hardly even worth the tempest that has been made of it," Limbaugh said.
"I said something they find disagreeable. I said something that they prefer not to hear and so they have risen up here.
"They are demanding a head on their platter simply because I haven't said what they want to hear," he said.
"If there really was a so-called freedom of speech in this country, there would be a tantamount admission that there are all kinds of opinions everywhere -- whether an opinion is about a particular player or an opinion is about a media, it's just an opinion. It's just words."
McNabb, runner-up as league MVP after his first full season as a starter, sloughed off Limbaugh's remarks at a news conference in Philadelphia.
He said he has faced negative racial attitudes and been motivated by them all his life.
But the popular quarterback said he is concerned about the effects Limbaugh's comments could have on African-American families and prospective athletes across the globe.
"It's pretty, pretty heavy," he said. "It's something obviously I have been going through ever since I was young, through high school, through college, through the NFL. You figure it would have been over by now."
McNabb said he is sure Limbaugh is "not the only one who feels that way," but "it's somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV from him."
McNabb said he does not expect or need a personal apology from Limbaugh.
"What is that going to do? You've already said it. You've thought about it, so you had time to think about it before you said it," he said. "It's not really over. But there's nothing you can do to change it."
McNabb said he was also bothered by the reaction from the other commentators on the set who didn't challenge Limbaugh. Two of them were black -- Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, both former NFL players.
"I kind of worry about that aspect of it," he said. "Somebody should have said something to the race issue."
McNabb said people have to watch what they say on TV, pointing out that "when you are on TV everyone is watching."
"But anytime you tackle an issue that obviously has been a problem for us for so many years, people are going to talk about it. And if you have no answer for it, don't think it's going to just die out. It's going to continue on."