Limbaugh cited "improve[ment]" by Super Bowl-bound McNabb, but said media's prior praise for Eagles quarterback reflected "social hope"
Following the Philadelphia Eagles' victory advancing the team to Super Bowl XXXIX, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh returned to his assertion that the media had lauded team quarterback Donovan McNabb because he is African American. Limbaugh said: "There's no question McNabb has improved and I'm happy to see it," and then maintained that "when the defense ... was propping the Eagles up," the media "were still giving McNabb credit -- because there's this social hope."
As Media Matters for America has noted , Limbaugh resigned  from a brief 2003 stint as a commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown after he made remarks  about McNabb that ESPN called "insensitive and inappropriate."
Limbaugh said of McNabb on Sunday NFL Countdown in September 2003: "Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go ... 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. 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."
From the January 24 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
CALLER: Rush, since Donovan McNabb has gotten over this latest hurdle, is your opinion of his ability as a quarterback and a field leader changed?
LIMBAUGH: You know, it has. Since you've called and brought this up, my quote on McNabb was back in September or October, I forget, of last year. Yeah, 2003, and at the time, McNabb, the Eagles were 1-3 or 1-4. McNabb couldn't complete a pass over 20 yards. They had just come off two championship game losses and the third was coming up. But, since, yeah, there's been a demonstrable change in McNabb's performance, pure and simple. There's no question there has been. I think he was motivated, inspired by a whole lot of things.
There's no question McNabb has improved and I'm happy to see it. I like quality football.
There was a reporter for The Washington Post named Leonard Shapiro. And he was doing a story  on the "groundbreaking social achievement" that occurred on Sunday [January 23]. Two black quarterbacks competing against each other in a championship game in the NFL, which meant that a black quarterback would be going to the Super Bowl. And Leonard Shapiro wanted a quote from me, and I of course knew that the story was already written. And he was going to be talking to a professor of black studies and some ex-NFL quarterbacks who are black. So I chose not to participate in it. And the story came out, and it was what I thought. It's exactly what I say--it was a story on the social advancement of the black quarterback in the NFL.
Which, all I ever said was that's what the media is interested in. That's why I thought they looked the other way when the defense of the Eagles was propping the Eagles up and were still giving McNabb credit -- because there's this social hope. I've never wavered from that and I think the story by Shapiro proves it.
I did think about calling Leonard Shapiro back, but I didn't, because I knew that no matter what I said, I would still get reamed for what happened years ago. But my only question to him was going to be, "Hey, Leonard, why can't it be that two great quarterbacks are competing in the championship game? Why does it have to be two black quarterbacks who are competing in the championship? Who's seeing that, Leonard? Is it you or me?" But I doubted that the nuance of the quote would be appreciated. And rather it would be seen for something else.