'Jeopardy!' contestant 'horrified' over racist hand gesture accusation, condemns white supremacy

Taryn Ryder
·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read

Jeopardy! contestant Kelly Donohue had many viewers outraged this week after he flashed what some interpreted as a white power symbol during the show's introduction. Now, Donohue is insisting it was a "terrible" misunderstanding. 

In a Facebook post, Donohue said he's "horrified" over accusations he made a racist hand gesture. "I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind," he wrote on Thursday. 

"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," he added.

More than 450 former contestants wrote an open letter demanding an apology for the hand gesture making it on-air and urged producers to make sure such a thing, intentional or not, never happens again. 

"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, which was posted to Medium, begins.

Kelly Donohue, who was on a three game winning Jeopardy! streak, sparked backlash after allegedly flashing white power symbol.
Kelly Donohue, who was on a three game winning 'Jeopardy!' streak, sparked backlash after allegedly flashing white power symbol. (Photo: Facebook)

On Tuesday, Donohue made a gesture with his hand that appeared to resemble an upside-down "OK" sign. The Anti-Defamation League previously classified it as an official symbol of hate. Donohue, who was on a winning streak, said in a now-deleted Facebook post the gesture indicated "that he had won three games." (On previous episodes, he gestured with one finger and two fingers to indicate prior wins.)

Donohue says he deleted the initial post "because the comments were more than I could bear."

"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," he adds. "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."

The letter from former contestants on Wednesday claimed the gesture "was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three."

"He held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest. 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 that calls itself the Three Percenters," the letter reads. "Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle."

The former contestants noted outrage on social media and expressed concern the symbol was broadcast. 

"Most problematic to us as a contestant community is the fact that Kelly has not publicly apologized for the ramifications of the gesture he made. If something has been misconstrued, an apology and a total disavowal of any connection to white supremacist doctrines is called for. We saw that gesture air on television," the group says. 

They also noted how Donahue used a slur against the Roma people on Monday's episode.

"We cannot stand up for hate. We cannot stand next to hate. We cannot stand onstage with something that looks like hate. We are ashamed to be associated with brands and identities that suffer the taint of hateful statements and actions — particularly if they go unchallenged by those at the top," the contestants add. 

"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. We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing. Finally, we hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air," the letter says.

Yahoo Entertainment reached out to Sony for comment on the letter, but did not immediately receive a response.

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