ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — The Minnesota legislator whose tweet about the NBA aroused cries of racism is apologizing Monday.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, a fifth-term Republican from Farmington, has faced an avalanche of criticism for suggesting this weekend that pro basketball players had criminal tendencies.
On Monday, Garfalo apologized in a press release saying, in part, the “NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our communities and our country.”
He went on to say NBA players did not deserve his sharp criticism.
“In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals as opposed to groups. Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized,” he stated. “Those individuals did not deserve that criticism and I apologize.”
More than three-fourths of the NBA’s players are black, according to a 2013 report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Critics say Garofalo’s tweet reinforced the stereotype that young black males are criminals.
His post drew hundreds of comments — some branding him a racist and others using statistics to rebut the idea of rampant violations in the NBA compared to American society in general — and has been retweeted nearly 1,800 times. Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party, took to his own Twitter account to call Garofalo’s post “incredibly racist.”
Earlier on Monday, Garofalo didn’t back down in text message to The Associated Press.
“Pro sports leagues have a problem with some of their athletes obeying the law,” Garofalo wrote in the text message. “This problem transcends race and is a symptom of the value athletes believe society puts on their athletic talent.”
By Monday afternoon, Garofalo was ready to apologize for his generalizations, as the outcry grew louder.
“The NBA policy on drug enforcement is stronger than I previously believed. Again, I offer my sincere apologies for my comments,” he said.
Garofalo said he was wrong when he claimed NBA players had a high rate of arrest, and wrong when he said the NBA did not enforce drug policy, including marijuana.
In a short press conference with reporters, Garofalo said the tweet was a poor attempt at humor, and that he is not a racist.
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he said. “I pride myself on the fact that I have tutored in the inner city of Minneapolis, and in addition, I have been a strong advocate for some of the charter schools in our communities.”
One African American leader at the Minnesota State Capitol said there’s nothing funny about it.
“I think it’s racist. I absolutely do,” said State Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, who characterized it as a slur on young black males. “I am not necessarily saying that Rep. Garofalo is necessarily racist. I haven’t had that conversation with him. But that was a racist statement. When I look at that statement and the narrative behind that, I believe Rep. Garofalo made a racist statement.”
At Minnesota Timberwolves practice on Monday, players reacted with surprise, but said they don’t take it personally.
“We’re just trying to be positive guys in the community,” said Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin. “You know, give back in time of need and things like that, and I think the NBA as a whole, we do a great job of that.”
Coach Rick Adelman said he didn’t think it deserved a comment.
“That has nothing to do with us,” Adelman said. “I don’t see any reason anybody has to say anything about it. I’ve never even heard of the guy. I don’t know who he is.”
The last time a Timberwolves player ran into legal trouble was in 2010, when Michael Beasley, who’s now with the Miami Heat, was ticketed for speeding and possessing marijuana in a Twin Cities suburb.
Nothing New For Garofalo
The blunt commentary is nothing new for Garofalo, who regularly makes sharp-tongued speeches on the Minnesota House floor and even edgier remarks online.
Garofalo’s Twitter feed is typically a mix of sarcastic takes on politics, pop culture and sports. During football and NASCAR seasons, he offers his predictions via his pet whom he dubs “Buddy The Sports Gambling Dog.”
“If the bird watching, hippy, tofu-eating vegan liberals in Minneapolis had their way, the Iron Range never would have mined taconite either,” he tweeted last month, referring to a statewide debate over a copper-nickel mine project proposed for northern Minnesota.
But this time, Garofalo admits, he went too far.
“There’s no excuses. I apologize and I am responsible for my actions,” he said. “I just want to promise everybody I will do my best not to make that mistake again.”
Garofalo represents a district south of the Twin Cities and is seeking a sixth term in the fall.
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