Rep. Garofalo apologizes for tweet on NBA that many called racist

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2014 - 11:01 PM

After a sharp backlash, he took back words that many called racist.

State Rep. Pat Garofalo apologized, then apologized some more, for a weekend tweet that suggested that NBA players are a crime wave waiting to happen.

“Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime,” he tweeted Sunday evening.

The 140-character post on Twitter sparked a swift, harsh, public backlash. By morning, the Farmington Republican’s tweet was national news, usually accompanied by the prefix “racist,” and Garofalo was watching his own name scroll across the ESPN news crawl on the televisions at the gym.

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he told reporters on Monday.

But, he conceded, it was unfair and inaccurate to take a few examples of lawbreaking by professional athletes and use them to stereotype an entire profession. So on Monday he apologized, again and again.

“In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to relearn 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,” he said in a written apology Monday morning. “Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized.”

Later in the day, Garofalo faced banks of cameras at the Capitol and apologized again.

“I take back my entire tweet. I completely apologize,” he said. “It’s not my intent. It’s not what I believe, but I should be held accountable for my words.”

Before and after the apology, Garofalo faced blistering criticism, including accusations of racism, insensitivity and factual inaccuracy. In particular, Garofalo noted that his belief that the NBA does not screen its athletes for marijuana use was patently wrong.

“I was under the mistaken impression that the National Basketball Association did not test for marijuana. In fact, that is false,” he said. “That is a drug policy violation and something that’s clearly stated in their collective bargaining agreement.”

In response to Garofalo’s tweet, NBA spokesman Tim Frank circulated the association’s policy, which states that players are subject to six random tests a year and can be tested for cause at any time. Those who test positive for “drugs of abuse,” including marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids, can be dismissed from the NBA.

‘Clearly not my intent’

Responses to Garofalo’s tweet included at least one death threat, but Garofalo said he also received “some very thoughtful e-mails from some people who talked about what it means for their children, who are sometimes subject to additional scorn because of the color of their skin, that people sometimes stereotype them. That was clearly not my intent.”

There’s an Internet maxim that warns that everyone is one tweet away from being fired. Garofalo is not the first Minnesota lawmaker to learn that lesson the hard way.

Others on the hot seat

Last year, DFL state Rep. Ryan Winkler sent out a tweet calling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “Uncle Thomas.” When challenged, Winkler deleted the tweet and apologized, saying he was unaware that the phrase is considered a racial slur.

In 2012, a Senate Republican staffer was fired after getting into a Twitter feud with then-Republican state Rep. John Kriesel, over Kriesel’s support for same-sex marriage. In 2011, GOP then-state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman wrongly tweeted that a DFL legislator called people with mental illness “idiots and imbeciles” during a Senate floor debate. Hoffman was brought up on an ethics complaint and later apologized.

DFL Rep. Paul Gardner in 2009 tweeted that one of his Republican colleagues, then-Rep. Tom Emmer, was nastier to women during debates than he was to men, and suggested that one of his Republican colleagues was sporting a black eye. Gardner, too, was brought up on ethics charges and issued a public apology.

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