A “Jeopardy” contestant who used a hand sign allegedly associated with a white power group says the gesture was a “terrible misunderstanding,” as alumni of the game show call on producers to address the controversy.
Over 560 (and growing) former “Jeopardy” players published a letter on Medium addressing contestant Kelly Donohue’s three-fingered hand sign, which they allege is associated with the white power group known as the Three Percenters.
“A recent contestant has caused concern among ‘Jeopardy’ viewers for two separate occurrences, and we as former contestants feel the need to speak out against the messaging that these choices communicated — either intentionally or unintentionally — by the contestant Kelly Donohue and, implicitly by association, the producers of ‘Jeopardy,’” the letter reads.
Donohue, who recently won three episodes in a row, made his fourth consecutive appearance on the game show Tuesday night. As longtime announcer Johnny Gilbert introduced the contestant, he made a three-fingered hand gesture where he “held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest.” The “Jeopardy” contestants’ letter referred to this symbol as a “racist dog whistle.”
Donohue addressed the controversy in a now-deleted Facebook post, where he said there was no “hidden agenda or any malice behind” his gesture beyond the indication that he was a three-time winner.
“Many of the great champions of old had a little signature hello they would do on-screen when being introduced by Johnny Gilbert,” Donohue wrote. “I decided to count my victories. That’s a 1. That’s a 2. That’s a 3. No more. No less. Had I managed to repeat as champion, you’d have been treated to a 4.”
Donohue (who was defeated Tuesday night) posted on Facebook once again Thursday morning. Stating that he is “truly horrified” with the recent social media posts regarding the controversy, Donohue said he deeply regrets “this terrible misunderstanding.”
“I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind,” Donohue wrote. “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 day before Donohue made the hand gesture on television, he used a slur against the Roma people on Monday night’s show and was corrected by guest host Anderson Cooper. The former contestants wrote in the letter that they hope the producers hire a sensitivity and diversity auditor to advise the show’s writing. Additionally, they hope to see changes made so “future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”
“As people whose lives have been largely beneficially impacted by this show and its community, we really hope to see a statement and a disavowal of both of this week’s events, and we would like to see ‘Jeopardy’ address Kelly’s behavior,” the letter reads. “We know that contestants sign morals and ethics-related agreements when they prepare to appear on the show, and we would ask the production team to evaluate this situation within that framework.”
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