Big Ron Attends Race Awareness Classes in Attempt to Rebuild His Television Career ; the Disgraced Football Pundit Ron Atkinson Is Crossing the Atlantic to Restore His Reputation. Nicholas Pyke Reports
pyke, nicholas, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Ron Atkinson, the disgraced football pundit and former manager, has been sent to race awareness classes in an attempt to restart his stalled television career.
Mr Atkinson, a distinctive figure with his chunky gold jewellery and brash opinions, caused astonishment and anger earlier this year when he described French football star Marcel Desailly as a "lazy thick nigger" on air, comments which saw him immediately ditched from lucrative TV and newspaper contracts.
But his rehabilitation is under way already, only six months since the broadcast that caused so much offence. This month he is back on screen, starring in a BBC documentary along with black former footballers Carlton Palmer and John Barnes, and political commentator Darcus Howe, a prominent critic.
Provisionally entitled Big Ron - Am I a Racist?, the show takes Mr Atkinson to the Deep South of the US where he is filmed discussing the great civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and attending classes designed to counter discrimination. He also visits memorials to slavery and to the racial segregation that King helped to abolish.
Mr Atkinson yesterday confirmed that he had taken part in the programme and attended race awareness classes after an approach by the BBC. He was willing to give few details ahead of the broadcast, saying only "we looked at the Martin Luther King situation". He refused to say if the programme had altered his opinions. But it is understood that in one con- versation on camera he complained at being treated unfairly, pointing out that the footballer Paul Gascoigne had not lost his job despite admitting to beating up his wife. He also complains that ITV, the company which forced him to resign, then invited him on to I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, an invitation he is thought to have refused.
Typically race awareness classes in the US involve elements of role-playing, with white students acting the part of the minority, and intensive courses in the history of slavery and the liberation struggle. Race awareness seminars at North Carolina State University require participants to "engage in an intense, honest appraisal of their individual and collective racial attitudes".
Mr Atkinson fell from grace in April following a European Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Monaco on which he had been commentating for ITV. Believing the microphone had been switched off, he railed against the Chelsea team, which had gone down to defeat, and the performance of former France international defender and captain Marcel Desailly in particular. Although British viewers heard nothing, the remarks were mistakenly broadcast to parts of the Middle East.
Mr Atkinson immediately offered his resignation and apologised, characterising it as "a moment of stupidity". …