A Minnesota lawmaker apologized today for a tweet he wrote late Sunday about professional basketball players, which many have called racist.
State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, wrote in a Twitter post that "70 percent of the teams in the NBA could fold tomorrow and nobody would notice a difference with the possible exception of increase in street crime."
The comment was quickly denounced on social media sites. People across the country said Garofalo's tweet had undertones of racism because a majority of NBA players are African-American.
Garofolo said today that he decided to apologize after further reflection and that he regrets posting the tweet. He said the comment was inappropriate but insisted that he did not mean it to be racist.
"I don't have a racist bone in my body. I pride myself on the fact that I have tutored in inner-city Minneapolis," he said.
In front of TV cameras and reporters at the state Capitol, Garofalo said his tweet was unfair to NBA players and owners.
"But there's no excuses. I apologize and I'm responsible for my actions and I want to promise everybody that I'll do my best to not make that mistake again," he said.
Garofalo said he inaccurately stereotyped the entire NBA. But others say his comments went well beyond that.
State Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said he doesn't know if Garofalo is a racist, but he said the tweet was.
"Regardless to whether he thought it was or not, it was a racist statement and it was one that cast aspersions amongst a particular group of people," said Hayden, who is African-American. "And that to me is textbook racist."
In 2010, Garofalo said on the House floor that the head of the state teachers union should "run and hide" after the union successfully fought efforts to allow nontraditional teachers in the classroom. Scroll through his Twitter feed and you'll also see Garofalo's thoughts on politics, popular culture and sports. He even makes football and NASCAR predictions via his pet that he dubbed "Buddy the Sports Gambling Dog."
When asked whether he thought Sunday's comment would elicit this type of reaction, Garofalo said he never thought he'd see his name on ESPN. But that's exactly what happened on Monday morning when NBA commentator Stephen A. Smith talked about Garofalo and his tweet.
"There's no doubt that there's racial undertones to that because he picked out the NBA which is close to 80 percent black," Smith said. "We understand from that perspective that it's very uncomfortable with what he has said, what he alluded to and it was irresponsible on his part particularly because he's a lawmaker."
Twitter pitfalls aren't new
Garofalo isn't the first state lawmaker to make headlines over a Twitter post. State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, apologized last year for calling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas "Uncle Thomas" after a ruling on a civil rights law. And former DFL Rep. Paul Gardner apologized for suggesting a Republican lawmaker belittled his female colleagues and another was wearing sunglasses because he had a black eye.
Republicans also said Garofalo's tweet should serve as an important reminder. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said lawmakers should be careful about what they write on social media.
"I think it is a good reminder that as elected officials we are and should be held to a higher standard," said Daudt, R-Crown. "We need to remember that what we say on Twitter is reflective not just on us but a larger group of people."
DFL leaders in the House said they didn't expect to file any formal complaints against Garofalo.