West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins is rightfully under fire for saying homophobic slurs on a local Cincinnati radio show–and making a transgender joke for good measure. But the Hall of Fame coach didn’t use those hateful words in a vacuum.
They were uttered during a juvenile and atavistic conversation that was ripe with anti-gay tropes and casual homophobia. This kind of insidious banter is heard on talk radio shows across the country, and exposes the poisonous nature of the dying medium.
It’s not surprising that odious dialogue is an apparent fixture on Bill Cunningham’s show. The Cincinnati-based conservative broadcaster was labeled one of the “most prolific purveyors of hate speech” in the country as far back as 2008, according to Media Matters. His list of controversies extends from making racist remarks about President Barack Obama’s father to pushing the anti-trans conspiracy theory of kids using litter boxes in schools in-lieu of restrooms.
On Monday, Cunningham and his in-studio guest, former Huggins assistant coach Steve Moeller, played audio from another Huggins interview, in which he told those hosts to “call the loudmouths at WLW” (Cunningham’s station) if they wanted to hear good Xavier stories.
“I’ve gotta call Huggins,” said Cunningham. “I’ve got the number.”
Within seconds, Huggins answered his phone, and was live on the air. The conversation began with the kind of sophomoric towel-snapping that jock-sniffing hosts often use to ingratiate themselves with players and coaches. That led Huggins to bring up an incident in which Xavier fans threw rubber penises on the floor during the Crosstown Shootout.
“Any school that can throw rubber penises on the floor and then say they didn’t do it, by god they can get away with anything,” he said.
Throwing sex toys onto the court or field of play is a long-standing tradition among sports fans. Instead of just laughing and moving on, Cunningham interjected with his own one-liner, directed towards transgender people.
“It was transgender night, wasn’t it?,” he asked.
That gave Huggins the proverbial green light to go full homophobe.
“It was a Crosstown Shootout, yeah, no, what it was, was all those f–s, those Catholic f–s I think,” he said.
Even Cunningham seemed taken aback at Huggins’ casual hate speech. “All right,” he said.
But Huggins came back with an encore performance: a transgender barb of his own.
“They were envious they didn’t have one,” he said.
With that line, Huggins removed any doubt that his use of “f–s” was a slip of the tongue.
“Is he the best?” Cunningham asked before Huggins signed off.
⚠️ Here’s the audio of Bob Huggins calling Xavier fans “Catholic f–s” during an appearance on Bill Cunningham’s WLW radio show in Cincinnati pic.twitter.com/JTftGx9rQE
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) May 8, 2023
As Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler mentions, Huggins’ public comments are the most homophobic we’ve heard from a sports figure since NBA great Tim Hardaway told Dan Le Batard he “hates gay people” in 2007. The West Virginia coached issued a vapid apology for his words, failing to specifically mention the LGBTQ community.
You know, the people he offended.
Huggins, who’s the face of a prominent athletic department, may lose his job over his anti-gay locker room talk. But he isn’t the only guilty party here.
Cunningham directed the banter towards the gutter. It’s apparent he’s pals with Huggins, and in the macho world of talk radio, that’s what pals do: rag on gay and transgender people.
Despite Cunningham’s history of abhorrent remarks, he’s never really been held to account. The Cincinnati talk legend appears to be untouchable. To this point, neither WLW nor Cunningham have even acknowledged the controversy on their website or social media accounts. Cunningham’s podcast from May 8th is still not available on his show’s feed. Cunningham did not mention the Huggins interview at the top of his program on Tuesday, instead interviewing Chris Smitherman, a former member of the Cincinnati city council.
The sad truth is, radio hosts usually only face discipline when sponsors squeal. Talk radio is a profoundly conservative medium, with over 90% of American political and talk radio leaning right.
With those demographics in mind, it isn’t surprising that sports talk radio has long been a bastion for right-wing talk as well.
They call it “guy talk.”
That environment, along with the prevalence of casual homophobia, set the stage for Huggins to drop a couple of anti-gay slurs. He appeared comfortable doing it, because he was in a comfortable place.
He was talking with his friend Bill, making fun of the gays.
For the leader of a big time college basketball program, Huggins’ homophobic remarks were shocking. That’s why he’s now the subject of a major news story.
But for a talk radio guy, anti-gay banter is par for the course. It certainly is for Cunningham, who’s been on the air since 1983, peddling the same old schtick.
Alex Reimer also serves as the deputy managing editor of Outsports.