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ESPN suspends Olbermann for Penn State rant

Alec Heininger learns the line dance during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Friday, Feb. 20 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Alec Heininger learns the line dance during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Friday, Feb. 20 in the Bryce Jordan Center. CDT photo

A loud voice at ESPN2 will be quiet for a week after harsh words about Penn State’s dance marathon.

Keith Olbermann, who has a self-titled sports analysis show, engaged in a Twitter war with Penn State supporters after the annual Thon, which benefits the Four Diamonds Fund supporting families dealing with pediatric cancer.

After being sent a tweet Monday that said, “We are” and included a link to information about the weekend event that raised $13 million with the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, Olbermann responded with “pitiful.”

When called out on it, he clarified. It wasn’t the fundraising that was pitiful, he said. It was Penn State students.

Over a few hours, it degenerated into further name-calling and taunting exchanges.

ESPN could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning, but by the afternoon, they put out their own response.

“We are aware of the exchange Keith Olbermann had on Twitter last night regarding Penn State. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN. We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday. The annual tradition of Thon and the efforts of the students of Penn State to fight pediatric cancer should be applauded.”

ESPN’s John Buccigross had already lauded the university students over the weekend, calling out the 46 hours of dancing as a great athletic achievement on top of the fundraising and naming them his “Bucci Stars” on his show.

That is a mirror of Olbermann’s own call-out of Penn State after the repeal of post-Sandusky NCAA sanctions in January, when he named the university as his “World’s Worst” twice.

Olbermann is no stranger to censure by his employers, after being fired from Current TV, MSNBC and Fox Sports, and having a previous experience at ESPN.

Penn State did not comment on the statements, or the ESPN response.

Olbermann, however, did, issue an apology on Twitter.

“I apologize for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job,” he posted shortly after 1 p.m.

Penn State released a statement Tuesday saying it was “a shame” that Olbermann “chose to attack Penn State students who raised more than $13 million for the fight to end pediatric cancer.”

The statement also challenges Olbermann to put his money where his apology is.

“Mr. Olbermann has apologized, which is appropriate,” spokesman Lawrence Lokman said in the statement. “We challenge him to make a donation to Thon.org.”

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship made a statement after members of the organization took action on social media, contacting ESPN and parent company Walt Disney Co. and organizing a “Boycott Keith Olbermann” page on Facebook.

“Members of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship are gratified that Olbermann was suspended after his atrocious comments attacking the superlative generosity of Penn State students and their tireless work on the tradition of T(hon),” spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt wrote. “However, it’s important to remember that Olbermann’s negative perception of the Penn State community is a direct result of the horrific things that Louis Freeh said about us. Our community will continue to suffer these kinds of attacks until the truth of this report’s creation is publicly revealed and the report is finally thrown on the scrap heap of history where it belongs.”

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