Even in the wacky world of sports talk radio, some jokes just aren’t funny.
Three former employees of an Atlanta station were suspended Monday then fired hours later for poking fun earlier in the day at former Saints special teams icon Steve Gleason, who uses a wheelchair as he battles for his life.
Gleason, 36, suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that attacks motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. But that wasn’t enough to stop hosts of “Mayhem In The AM” on Atlanta’s 790 The Zone from mocking Gleason’s fatal condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hosts Steve “Steak” Shapiro and Chris Dimino pretended to interview Gleason, played by co-host Nick Cellini.
Cellini mimicked Gleason’s computer-assisted voice with a tangent of dark knock-knock jokes. Other jokes include Gleason pleading for an assisted suicide.
“Knock knock,” Cellini started in a robotic voice.
“No, Steve. We do Knock Knocks on Thursdays.”
Cellini: “I may not be here on Thursday.”
“Knock knock ...”
“Knock knock who?”
“I blame Gregg Williams (for ALS condition).”
Shapiro, a former co-owner of the radio station, apologized via Twitter.
“I love the people and city of New Orleans, always have, always will, @team_gleason I will work tirelessly to make this up to you...,” he wrote.
“What is so ironic is that I went to Tulane, love New Orleans and love the @steve_gleason story, what a moronic 2 mins, I am truly sorry. ...”
The radio comments, which the station termed as “offensive,” threatened to ruin a day in which Gleason authored a guest column — penned with his eyes and “eye tracking” technology — for Peter King’s “Monday Morning QB” on SI.com.
While the Atlanta radio station’s on-air skit was the ire of social media platforms on Monday, the aftermath appeared to have little effect on Gleason or The Gleason Initiative Foundation, which helps people with ALS live productive lives while assisting with the search for a cure.
Gleason and his family are on vacation in the Northwest.
“Following up the rest of the day, Steve will be with (wife) Michel and son Rivers enjoying the lakes and mountains that surround them, which is far more important than addressing a talk show that has no relevance to his efforts,” Clare Durrett, a spokesman for Team Gleason, wrote in an e-mail.
Former teammate Scott Fujita was not so unmoved.
“I’m going to reserve judgement until I hear this morning’s playback from @790TheZone. But right now I’m enraged,” Fujita wrote on Twitter.
Gleason was an undrafted NFL free agent who played for the Saints in 2000-07. His blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 came to symbolize the city’s recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
Five years after his heroics on the field, Gleason went public with his diagnosis.
In November, Gleason was rushed to Ochsner Hospital by ambulance after becoming unresponsive during the Saints-Philadelphia Eagles game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Gleason’s Monday column explained many of his daily challenges with ALS.
“So, how does a person react when he or she learns there are two to five years left with which to live?” he wrote.
“Denial. Frustration. Anger. Despair. But at some point, I understood that acceptance of this diagnosis was not admitting defeat. That was critical for me personally. I think our lives are enriched when our own death is a conscious thought. I am not saying we should obsess over this, but it can be useful, because it makes you focus on the things and people you truly love. After that realization, I started to dig in, to look forward to what might be in my future.”