NEW YORK (AP) Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh resigned from ESPN on Wednesday night, three days after saying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.
Earlier Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Rev. Al Sharpton called for the cable sports network to fire Limbaugh.
''My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated,'' Limbaugh said in a statement Wednesday night. ''I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret.
''I love 'NFL Sunday Countdown' and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it.
''Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen.''
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, accepted the resignation.
''We regret the circumstances surrounding this,'' he said in a statement. ''We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously.''
McNabb had said earlier Wednesday that he didn't mind criticism of his performance. He was upset that Limbaugh made his race an issue and said it was too late for an apology.
''It's somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him,'' McNabb said. ''It's not something that I can sit here and say won't bother me.''
Limbaugh insisted earlier Wednesday he had ''no racist intent whatsoever.'' In fact, he said he must have been right; otherwise, the comments would not have sparked such outrage.
Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN's pregame show that he didn't think McNabb was as good as perceived from the start.
''I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,'' Limbaugh said on ''Sunday NFL Countdown.''
''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,'' he said.
Limbaugh did not back down during his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday.
''All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something,'' Limbaugh said. ''If I wasn't right, there wouldn't be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.''
The NFL disclaimed any responsibility from Limbaugh's remarks.
''ESPN knew what it was getting when they hired Rush Limbaugh,'' league vice president Joe Browne said. ''ESPN selects its on-air talent, not the NFL.''
Sharpton scheduled a news conference Thursday morning in front of ABC headquarters in New York. He said he would call for ESPN to fire Limbaugh and would call for a national boycott of the network this weekend if he isn't. ABC and ESPN are corporate cousins, both owned by Walt Disney Co.
''I'm going to call for ESPN to terminate Rush Limbaugh as we've seen other networks terminate people for racist remarks in the past,'' Sharpton said Wednesday night. ''I'm shocked that we're at Wednesday and we have not seen an apology from Mr. Limbaugh. We cannot sit back in silence. That would be consent and we would have lost self-respect.''
Chris Berman, who anchors the ESPN show, said he did not believe Limbaugh's tone or intent was malicious.
''As cut and dry as it seems in print, I didn't think so when it went by my ears,'' he said. ''I probably should have looked to soften it. We're sorry we upset a guy who got off to a rough start.''
McNabb said someone on the show should have taken on Limbaugh. Among the other panelists are former players Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, both of whom are black.
''I'm not pointing at anyone but someone should have said it,'' McNabb said of the panelists, who also include former quarterback Steve Young. ''I wouldn't have cared if it was the cameraman.''
Limbaugh was scheduled to be in Philadelphia on Thursday to speak at a broadcast convention. McNabb said he wouldn't be welcome at the Eagles' practice.
''I really don't want to see him,'' McNabb said. ''You can say you're sorry all you want, it doesn't matter. It's been said.''
McNabb, who was runner-up for the league MVP award in 2000 and has led the Eagles to two straight NFC championship games, said he has no quarrel with Limbaugh's comment on his ability.
McNabb got off to the worst start of his career this season and was the NFL's lowest-rated starting quarterback after losses to Tampa Bay and New England. Still, the Eagles are 36-22 in games he has started, including 4-3 in the playoffs.
Limbaugh helped increase the ratings for ''Sunday NFL Countdown.'' ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said ratings are up 10 percent overall. Sunday's show drew its biggest audience in the regular season since 1996.
Seven black quarterbacks started games last weekend. Two other blacks who regularly start, Daunte Culpepper of Minnesota and Michael Vick of Atlanta, were out with injuries.
Asked about Limbaugh's comments, Eagles defensive end N.D. Kalu said: ''He speaks well, he's well-read, but he's an idiot.''
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