'Jeopardy!' contestant accused of making white power sign - apology demands ensue

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Here we go again. Just when we thought a simple hand gesture wasn’t universally acknowledged as a sign of support for white supremacy, we have been proven wrong. Once again former contestants of Jeopardy! have signed a letter voicing a demand of the show’s producers. This time it is because they allege a contestant made a white power hand signal during the televised competition.

I don’t know what is happening with Jeopardy! but I don’t like this trend. The death of longtime show host Alex Trebek left a void that is still not filled. The show is using guest hosts for two-week stints, trying them out to find a permanent host. One choice was Dr. Oz and a group of former contestants threw a hissy fit. They wrote a letter to the show’s producers and demanded that Dr. Oz be nixed as a guest host. He wasn’t and the producers went ahead with Dr. Oz’s tryout. At first, I thought this letter was a one-off kind of gesture. Some virtual-signaling liberals decided to tell the world that they are so much better people than Dr. Oz who has some questionable baggage in his long career.

A new letter has been written and this time the former contestants accuse a player of flashing a hand signal associated with white supremacy. This surprised me because we watch Jeopardy! in my house most evenings as we eat dinner. It’s a family thing. I didn’t notice this particular contestant, who I recognized, doing anything that looked untoward. A group of 467 former contestants signed on to the letter published on Medium accusing contestant Kelly Donohue of making the gesture. They demand an apology from him and the show’s producers, too, who they say are guilty “implicitly by association”. Allegedly it happened during the game broadcast Tuesday.

“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 story said.

On Tuesday, Donohue “held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest.” Donohue claims he was indicating that he’d won three games, and had gestured with one finger and two fingers to indicate previous wins.

However, the third time was not the charm. The Medium story claimed the move was similar to a gesture used by white power groups, alt-right groups, and the anti-government Three Percenters.

“A couple of years ago, a contestant unintentionally wagered a monetary amount that used numerical values coopted by white supremacist groups and, since the total didn’t affect the outcome of the game, ‘Jeopardy!’ digitally altered the numbers in the version that aired,” the Medium letter claimed. “This should have been done in this case. Intentional or not, the burden was on the production team to catch the similarity to a hate symbol and make sure it didn’t end up on air.”

Did that story about the previous digital alteration of numbers make headlines back then? I don’t remember that. As I mentioned, I remember Donohue since his participation was so recent. Contestants often make gestures to the audience. He was a regular, affable kind of contestant and I find it hard to believe that he meant anything nefarious if he did this.

But wait, there’s more. The letter also accuses Donohue of using a racist slur against the Roma people on the Monday show.

On Monday, April 26, Kelly responded to a clue with a term for the Roma that is considered a slur. The use of this term doesn’t necessarily indicate malice; until recently, it was widely used by English speakers. Current diversity style guides, however, suggest that it not be used, and that Roma or Romani be used instead. Host Anderson Cooper noted this on-air. However, many of us witnessed occasions in tapings of other episodes of the show where questionable responses or mis-speaking prompted a pause and re-recording of the dialogue. This probably would have been a good occasion to employ a similar fix. Yes, it may be an innocent or ignorant reply, and yes, it was technically correct. But on a television show for an international audience, the impact on a larger stage needs to be taken into account. A search of recent show archives reveals that the writers of clues have used the term “Gypsy” five times in the last two years. We ask the writers to remove this word from their vocabulary when it’s not being used in the context of a title of an artwork or a direct quotation. It would be best if they could craft clues that positively showcase the cultural heritage of the Roma and distance the association with hurtful stereotypes from the past.

The former contestants demand “a statement and a disavowal of both of this week’s events.”

“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,” the letter concluded. “Finally, we hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”

The letter calls Donohue’s hand gesture a “racist dog whistle”.

In a public Facebook post that has since been deleted, Kelly states, “That’s a 3. No more. No less.” His public Facebook profile also featured a cover photo of Frank Sinatra making a similar gesture. This was either erased or made private on Wednesday morning, along with hundreds of public comments on his few “Jeopardy!”-related posts. Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle.

The problem for the perpetually outraged is that if everything is racist, nothing is racist. The internet is littered with people from all walks of life making a similar gesture. Celebrities, athletes, everyday people can be seen in photographs online. Sometimes an “ok” is just an ok. If Donohue was using the other three fingers to symbolize his three-game wins, then that’s what it is.