June 7, 2014 11:03:35 PM
A journalist who covers Mississippi State University athletics for The Dispatch is apologizing for offensive comments he made about Lafayette, Louisiana, and its residents during an Internet radio broadcast last week.
Matthew Stevens called the southwest Louisiana town the "worst place in America." Of the town's residents, he said, "I'm not going to go as far as to say that they're not people. But I don't know what they are because they don't speak English -- and it's not French -- but I don't know what it is."
Stevens, 29, had spent three days in Lafayette covering the MSU baseball team as it took part in the NCAA Regional baseball tournament. The Bulldogs were ultimately eliminated from post-season play.
On Tuesday, after returning to Starkville, Stevens made the disparaging comments while recording his segment for The Full Court Press, which airs on Bulldog Sports Radio. The clip aired Wednesday. Then, after a Lafayette-based radio station posted the audio clip online, it went viral. Residents from Lafayette and beyond took to social media to voice their displeasure. Some said Stevens was sore over MSU losing. Some called him a "racist." The Advertiser, a Lafayette newspaper, wrote a story about the fallout.
On Saturday, Stevens said he regretted the comments and had "no excuse."
"I'm honestly so very sorry that I said those things and I couldn't regret saying them anymore than I do," Stevens said. "...I wish more than anything that I could take them back but I can't."
Late last week, The Dispatch fielded dozens of phone calls from Louisiana residents. Some wanted to make sure the newspaper's management was aware of the statements the sports reporter made. Many were angry. Dozens of emails about the incident also came in. Some asked that Stevens be fired. Others said they wanted to invite him back so that he could have a better experience.
"Matt's comments were ignorant and disappointing to say the least," said Dispatch general manager Peter Imes. "They certainly don't reflect the opinion of this paper or our community, yet are an embarrassment to both."
Stevens has worked as a reporter for The Dispatch since 2012. He has covered MSU athletics since 2009.
On Thursday, after audio of the comments beginning sweeping through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Stevens went on a Lafayette radio program hosted by University of Louisiana-Lafayette play-by-play voice Jay Walker and apologized. He also issued an on-air apology during The Full Court Press broadcast Friday.
"I take full responsibility for what I said and accept the consequences for having said them," Stevens told The Dispatch. "What I said on the program is not how I truly feel about anybody and all I can ask for is forgiveness for what I said on my radio program... I'll spend every day trying to make sure this kind of thing never happens again and truly be the loving and caring person I desperately strive to be and was raised by my loving parents to be."
The radio show, which broadcasts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is co-hosted by Stevens. The Dispatch is not affiliated with the radio show.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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