Former Jeopardy! contestants are calling on the show to take action after a recent winner allegedly flashed a hand gesture that’s associated with white supremacist hate groups on air. The winner, Kelly Donohue, insists that his actions were not intentional, and that he raised three fingers to mark his third win.
On Wednesday, over 450 past players issued an open letter published on Medium, demanding “a statement and a disavowal” of Donohue’s action and an explanation on why the gesture wasn’t censored.
“[Donohue] had, on previous episodes, indicated with one finger and two fingers that he had won one and two games, and no reasonable person would have interpreted those gestures differently. However, this gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three … this, whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups, alt right groups, and an anti-government group,” the letter reads in part. “Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle. Some of the first people to notice this were not affiliated with Jeopardy! in any way — they were viewers who couldn’t believe what they’d seen, captured it on video, and shared it to Twitter.”
“During other tapings of Jeopardy! episodes, changes have been made to avoid negative messaging making it to air. On more than one occasion, contestants have made gestures during their introductions that were seen as undesirable for broadcast and were asked by the production team to reshoot the footage without the gesture,” the letter continues. “We hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”
Read the full letter here.
Donohue took to Facebook on Wednesday to release a statement of his own, saying that he “absolutely, unequivocally condemn[s] white supremacy and racism of any kind.”
“I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media,” the statement read. “People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of Jeopardy! to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda.”
“During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my 3rd win. There was nothing more I was trying to indicate,” the statement continued. “I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding. I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists.”
ET has reached out to Jeopardy! and guest co-host Anderson Cooper for comment.
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