Three Atlanta radio hosts have been fired after airing a segment mocking former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason’s battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Throughout the segment, the hosts made fun of Gleason’s condition and his grim life expectancy. Gleason was diagnosed with the degenerative muscle disease in 2011 and recently penned a column discussing his condition.
On Monday morning, Atlanta’s 790 The Zone’s “Mayhem in the AM” sports show hosts Nick Cellini, Steak Shapiro and Chris Dimino featured a fake “caller” pretending to be Gleason. The fake Gleason told knock-knock jokes with horrific punchlines like “Smother me. Do me a favor” and “I’m going to hell” as the three hosts laughed. At one point, the fake Gleason joked that he might not be alive by Thursday.
Throughout the segment, the fake caller used a robotic voice during the segment because ALS has robbed Gleason of the ability to speak. He now uses a computer program that he controls with his eyes to verbally communicate.
After the Gleason-mocking segment aired, 790 the Zone received immediate backlash online. Sports outlets like the Bleacher Report condemned the segment. Gleason’s former teammate Scott Fujita stated that he was “enraged” over the bit.
By Monday afternoon, 790 the Zone released an official apology for the segment.
“We deeply regret the comments made by Mayhem In The AM this morning on 790 The Zone regarding former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason,” Rick Mack, station vice president and general manager, said in his apology. ”790 The Zone, Lincoln Financial Media, our sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support the unfortunate and offensive commentary concerning Mr. Gleason this morning. The members of the show involved with this incident have been suspended indefinitely pending further management review of their actions.”
In a separate apology, Cellini stated that he was sorry for the incident, which he acknowledged was “stupid” and in poor taste.
“My apologies to everyone. It was a stupid attempt at humor that backfired. Emphasis on stupid,” Cellini tweeted.
A later tweet from Cellini implied that he and his fellow DJs had all been fired over the incident.
"An update: we all got wacked. I apologized to Michel Gleason [Steve's wife], she understands it was a stupid joke. I'll do my best to help Team Gleason," he wrote.