Baton Rouge, LA — Three Atlanta radio personalities were fired Monday, hours after making light of Steve Gleason's fight against ALS.
The hosts of "Mayhem in the AM" on 790 The Zone (Nick Cellini, Steve Shapiro, and Chris Dimino) pretended to have Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints player, call into their broadcast. Then they poked fun of his disease.
Shortly thereafter, the station announced it had suspended each of them indefinitely, before firing them later in the day.
On the field, Gleason was best known for one play he made against the Atlanta Falcons. In the Saints' first home game following Hurricane Katrina, he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. In 2011, after his career ended, he publicly disclosed that he had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a degenerative condition that slowly causes people to lose muscle function, as well as the ability to breathe and speak.
Gleason has since formed Team Gleason, a foundation which aims to help patients and find a cure for the illness. To most people, he should not be the target of a joke.
"Definitely not," said Jordan Russo. "Especially with someone who's gonna have a foundation."
"It'd be like (joking about) somebody having Down's Syndrome, or something," agreed Charlie August. "You wouldn't be making fun of somebody like that."
On the radio show, a robotic voice portraying Gleason started to tell a knock-knock joke, which is one of the show's running bits.
"Hold on, no," interrupted one of the hosts. "Steve, we do knock-knocks on Thursday, we don't do it on Mondays, and we just started doing that again on... we do it on Thursdays."
"I may not be here on Thursday," was the reply from the fake Gleason, so the hosts let "him" continue, which led to a joke about wanting to die.
"Knock knock," the fake Gleason began.
"Smother me. Do me a favor."
At a couple of points, one of the hosts seemed to realize the commotion their attempt at humor would cause.
"I just don't know if I want to play," he can be heard saying at the beginning of the segment. Toward the end, after a joke about Gleason going to hell, he added, "god, god, help me."
Saints fans quickly heard about the segment, flooding online message boards with their disgust. Station management issued an apology, calling the segment, "unfortunate and offensive." A few hours later, the trio was done.
The three were longtime voices on Atlanta radio. While some people believed the segment was enough to warrant their dismissal, others suggested a suspension was more appropriate, given their history.
"It's just some nonsense," August said. "It ain't nothing really worth firing anybody over. It was just a fluke."
"Comedy goes so far," countered Russo, "but you can always cross that line, and they crossed that line."
All three hosts apologized on Twitter after the show ended. Cellini then deleted his Twitter account and told a local newspaper he was relieved to get fired because it was a bad station.