PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The Rutgers women's basketball team blasted radio host Don Imus Tuesday for "racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable and abominable" and agreed to meet with the embattled radio host.
Starting Monday, Imus will be suspended for two weeks for calling the players "nappy-headed hos."
Rutgers players, who had not spoken publicly until Tuesday, called his comments insensitive and hurtful - but reserved judgment on whether he should be fired until after they meet him.
"Unless they've given `ho' a whole new definition, that's not what I am," said Kia Vaughn, the team's sophomore center.
Calls for Imus' dismissal have been growing since he made the remarks about the team - which includes eight black women - a day after the team lost the national championship game to Tennessee on April 3.
Office supply chain Staples Inc., and Procter & Gamble each said they pulled advertising from Imus' show Tuesday in response to his comments.
Rutgers' players and head coach C. Vivian Stringer said Imus' comments took the luster off an incredible season.
"The Rutgers university women's basketball team has made history," said Essence Carson, a junior forward. "We haven't done anything to deserve this controversy, and yet it has taken a toll on us mentally and physically."
Rutgers' athletic director, Robert E. Mulcahy III, thought a meeting with Imus would offer the team's players a chance to listen to him and hear what he has to say. Several players said they wanted to ask the host why he would make such thoughtless statements.
"We all agreed the meeting with Mr. Imus will help," Carson said. "We do hope to get something accomplished during this meeting."
Imus, who has made a career of cranky insults in the morning, was fighting for his job following the joke that by his own admission went "way too far."
Imus, while acknowledging the severity of his mistake, said he just hadn't been thinking when he made the comments. He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an "ill-informed" choice.
Stringer said her players "are the best this nation has to offer ... young ladies of class, distinction. They are articulate, they are gifted. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word."
She said it's not about the players "as black or nappy-headed. It's about us as a people. When there is not equality for all, or when there has been denied equality for one, there has been denied equality for all."
She further said: "While they worked hard in the classroom and accomplished so much and used their gifts and talents, you know, to bring the smiles and the pride within this state in so many people, we had to experience racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, and abominable and unconscionable. It hurts me."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked whether President Bush thought Imus' punishment was strong enough.
"The president believed that the apology was the absolute right thing to do," Perino said Tuesday. "And beyond that, I think that his employer is going to have to make a decision about any action that they take based on it."
"What I did was make a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context," Imus said on his show Tuesday morning, the final week before his suspension starts.
Asked by NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer if he could clean up his act as he promised on Monday, he said, "Well, perhaps I can't." But he added, "I have a history of keeping my word."
Imus said on "Today" that he believed his show should have a regular black cast member and more frequent black guests.
Of the two-week suspension by MSNBC and CBS Radio, he said: "I think it's appropriate, and I am going to try to serve it with some dignity."
The Rev. Al Sharpton also appeared on "Today" and called the suspension "not nearly enough. I think it is too little, too late." He said presidential candidates and other politicians should refrain from going on Imus' show in the future.
Comic Bill Maher, CBS News political analyst Jeff Greenfield and former Carter administration official Hamilton Jordan all appeared on Imus' show Tuesday.
Imus' radio show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. (MSNBC, which simulcasts the show on cable, is a part of NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co.)
"Because of the recent comments that were made on the program it did prompt us to take a look at our decision to advertise on the program and we have decided to stop advertising," Staples spokesman Paul Capelli said Tuesday night.
"Once we became aware of the comment, we sort of stepped back and took a look at it," he said. "We weren't on today and are not planning on being on going forward.
He declined to disclose the dollar amount of the advertising involved.
P&G spokesman Terry Loftus confirmed that the company pulled ads from the show as of last Friday but declined to give further details.
While Imus has used his show to spread insults around - once calling Colin Powell a "weasel" and other times referring to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as a "fat sissy" and former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, an American Indian, as "the guy from `F Troop'" - his comments about the Rutgers women crossed the line, Stringer said.
"It is more than the Rutgers women's basketball team. It is all women's athletes. It is all women," said Stringer, the third-winningest women's basketball coach of all time who has taken four teams to the Final Four.
Many of the women on the team said while they may have wanted to ignore Imus' comments, they felt they had little choice but to address the controversy that had led them to be bombarded with e-mails and calls from friends, family and the media.
The team's players said they hoped the scandal would serve as an opportunity to speak up for women and give a voice to issues such as racism and sexism, but acknowledged that it also served as a reminder of just how much work needed to be done.
"It kind of scars us. We grew up in a world where racism exists, and there's nothing we can do to change that," said Matee Ajavon, another member of the team. "I think that this has scarred me for life."