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Rutgers Coach: Nation's Response To Imus Shows Moral Fiber

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) _ The head coach of the Rutgers women's basketball team on Thursday described MSNBC's decision to pull Don Imus' television broadcast as a demonstration of moral fiber _ the same day that CBS also decided to pull the plug on his broadcast.

The Rev. DeForest Soaries said Thursday night that Imus' firing from CBS was not deterring plans by the team and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, to meet with Imus. Soaries said he is moderating the meeting.

A spokeswoman for the team said it did not have an immediate comment on Imus' firing. But Imus was scheduled to meet with the team Thursday evening at the governor's mansion in Princeton, N.J.

The team was seen walking inside the governor's mansion, known as Drumthwacket, around 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

A spokesman for the governor, Brendan Gilfillan , would not comment on the proceeding, saying it was not ``our meeting.'' The governor offered his mansion for the two sides to meet, he said.

Soaries said when he spoke with Imus on Wednesday night, he asked the radio host whether he would go ahead with the meeting with the players if he was dropped from CBS. At the time, Soaries said Imus confirmed that he would still meet with the players regardless of what happened with CBS.

Speaking during the Oprah appearance, before the CBS announcement was made, Stringer said the decision by MSNBC ``shows that we do have moral fiber. And people are speaking up.''

Rutgers women's basketball team spokeswoman Stacey Brann said the team did not have an immediate comment on Imus' firing from CBS, but would be issuing a statement later Thursday.

Imus, who is famous for interviewing _ and insulting _ political and media figures, has taken heavy criticism over his racist and sexist comments during the show last week when he called the Rutgers basketball players ``nappy-headed hos.''

The comments came one day after the team lost the NCAA national championship game, the culmination to their Cinderella season that saw them come back from some devastating early season losses _ including a 40-point thrashing from Duke.

Speaking on Oprah's show, Rutgers' player Kia Vaughn said the Imus comments completely overshadowed their amazing season _ one their coach has called the most rewarding of her career.

``Our moment was stolen from us. Instead of us coming here to enjoy what we accomplished and how far we came, we had to sit back and look at media asking questions about what he said,'' Vaughn said.

Stringer told Winfrey on Thursday that she and her players never had ``a purpose or an agenda'' on whether Imus should lose his TV and radio jobs.

``We wanted to have an opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting with him,'' Stringer said.

The university has not given out details of where and when the meeting will take place in order to keep the media attention at a minimum.

Earlier Thursday, before CBS dropped the show, Brann said the team would meet Imus before the end of the week, but it was unclear whether the CBS announcement would change that schedule. Stringer is scheduled to be out of town on a recruiting trip Saturday, she said.

Soaries said the fact that Imus was off the air on both MSNBC and CBS took some pressure off of the upcoming meeting with the Rutgers women.

``This removes the burden from Rutgers women to determine the status of Imus' employment,'' Soaries said in a telephone interview.

Stringer and her players appeared on Winfrey's nationally syndicated show via satellite, some of them sitting in chairs and others standing on the court of the Louis Brown Athletic Center at Rutgers.

After the Winfrey interview, Stringer told reporters that she marveled at the level of public outrage over Imus' comments and the support for her team.

``For me it's been 25 years to reach the championship game, and in 50 seconds, he said what he said,'' Stringer said.

The coach, who was leading her fourth team to the NCAA Final Four, said this experience has been ``emotionally and mentally exhausting,'' and that immediately following the shock jock's comments, she had no idea of the repercussions to follow.

But Stringer said Imus' comments go way beyond just her players.

``What woman reads this and cannot be personally touched?'' Stringer said. ``It was always bigger than us, bigger than Rutgers University.''

The radio host's comments have thrown New Jersey's 50,000-student state university into the national spotlight and have made the women's basketball team one of the hottest topics of conversation.

``I thought it was pretty ridiculous to target a group of girls ... They were just a group of girls playing basketball,'' said Elaine Blatt, 22, a senior at Rutgers who is from Lacey Township.

Other students said the situation was being manipulated by politicians intent on gaining some publicity for themselves.

``He's a shock jock. This is what he does,'' said Jason Moehringer, 20, a junior from Hightstown, N.J. He said while Imus' comments were ``nasty,'' throwing the radio host off the air was a form of censorship.

The news came down in the middle of Imus' Radiothon on WFAN, which has raised more than $40 million since 1990. The Radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he lost his job. On the air Thursday before the CBS announcement, he acknowledged again that his remarks about the Rutgers team had been ``really stupid.''
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