NEW YORK - Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh resigned from ESPN on Wednesday night, three days after sparking outrage by saying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.
After defending his comments on his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh issued a statement announcing his resignation.
"My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated," Limbaugh said. "I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret.
"I love `NFL Sunday Countdown' and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it," Limbaugh said.
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, accepted the resignation.
"We regret the circumstances surrounding this," he said in a statement. "We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously."
Not long after Limbaugh's resignation was announced, media reports surfaced saying he was under investigation in Florida for illegally buying and abusing prescription painkillers.
The New York Daily News, without identifying its source, reported in Thursday editions that Limbaugh was being investigated by the Palm Beach County state attorney's office. The newspaper said it had independently confirmed a story by the National Enquirer that was to be published Thursday.
The Enquirer had interviewed Wilma Cline, who said she became Limbaugh's drug connection after working as his maid, according to the Daily News.
A Miami lawyer for Cline, Ed Shohat, did not immediately return a phone message left at his office early Thursday. Limbaugh's lawyers, Jerry Fox and Dan Zachary, refused to comment to the Daily News.
Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County state attorney's office, told The Associated Press early Thursday that his office could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was under way.
McNabb had said earlier Wednesday that he didn't mind criticism of his performance, but was upset that Limbaugh made his race an issue and said it was too late for an apology.
"It's somewhat shocking to hear that on national TV from him," McNabb said. "It's not something that I can sit here and say won't bother me."
Before McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Limbaugh said on ESPN's pregame show that he didn't think McNabb was as good as perceived from the start.
"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said on "Sunday NFL Countdown."
"There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team," he said.
Seven black quarterbacks started games last weekend. Two other blacks who regularly start were out with injuries.
Limbaugh did not back down during his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday.
"All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something," Limbaugh said. "If I wasn't right, there wouldn't be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community."
The NFL disclaimed any responsibility from Limbaugh's remarks.
"ESPN knew what it was getting when they hired Rush Limbaugh," league vice president Joe Browne said. "ESPN selects its on-air talent, not the NFL."
Chris Berman, who anchors the ESPN show, said he did not believe Limbaugh's tone or intent was malicious.
"As cut and dry as it seems in print, I didn't think so when it went by my ears," he said. "I probably should have looked to soften it. We're sorry we upset a guy who got off to a rough start."
McNabb said someone on the show should have challenged Limbaugh. Among the other panelists are former players Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, both of whom are black.
"I'm not pointing at anyone but someone should have said it," McNabb said of the panelists, who also include former quarterback Steve Young. "I wouldn't have cared if it was the cameraman."
McNabb got off to the worst start of his career this season and was the NFL's lowest-rated starting quarterback after losses to Tampa Bay and New England. Still, the Eagles are 36-22 in games he has started, including 4-3 in the playoffs.
Limbaugh is the radio host of the politically focused "Rush Limbaugh Show," which is syndicated in more than 650 markets worldwide. He spent most of the 1990s assailing then-President Clinton and said his job with ESPN was "the fulfillment of a dream."
ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said ratings for "Sunday NFL Countdown" were up 10 percent overall since Limbaugh joined the show this year.