NEW YORK – Al Sharpton on Saturday vowed to lead protests against Madison Square Garden unless New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas apologizes for a remark that suggested he holds whites and blacks to different standards when it comes to using a derogatory term for women.
"If, in fact, that's what Mr. Thomas said, he's wrong," the activist minister said at the weekly Harlem gathering of his National Action Network.
Thomas responded that he has nothing to apologize for, and hopes Sharpton will come to the same conclusion.
In a videotaped deposition introduced at his sexual harassment trial, Thomas said: "A white man calling a black female 'bitch,' that is wrong with me. I am not accepting that. That's a problem for me."
But, asked whether he would be as angry if the same words came from a black man, Thomas said, "Not as much."
"I'm sorry to say. I do make a distinction," Thomas said.
Thomas has since sought to clarify his comments, saying it is wrong for any man to hurl the insult. But he found himself responding to the issue again after Sharpton said the Action Network would picket Madison Square Garden during Knicks games unless Thomas apologized, or explained himself.
The coach and the activist said they spoke on the phone about the issue Saturday morning.
Thomas said he told Sharpton his words had been misinterpreted. He said his wife, Lynne, also participated in the call.
The deposition tape was played to a jury during a three-week civil trial that ended Tuesday in Manhattan. A jury ordered the owners of the Knicks to pay $11.6 million to a former team executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, after finding she endured two years of insults and unwanted advances from Thomas.
The Garden fired Sanders from her job as the team's vice president of marketing after she complained about Thomas's behavior.
Sharpton said that during their conversation Saturday, Thomas complained that his videotaped deposition had been edited in a way that took his comments out of context.
"I said, 'Why have you not made that clear?' He said, 'Well, I've not been able to make it clear,"' Sharpton said, recounting the conversation.
At a news conference at the Knicks' training camp in Charleston, S.C., Thomas said he hoped Sharpton would judge him based on "the facts" and not "the edited, spliced video that was leaked."
"I know what I said and what I was talking about, and how I said it was taken out of context and spliced in the video that made it say something else," Thomas said.
Sharpton's National Action Network is spearheading a nationwide effort to discourage use of words offensive to women — even if they're used in songs by popular black hip-hop artists or rappers.
"Our position has nothing to do with whether the person using the language is black or white, rich or poor, friend or foe," Sharpton said on Saturday, reiterating what he has been saying since the trial ended. "We cannot have different standards for sexism or racism."
Tamika Mallory, a director of the campaign, said the organization would wait until the end of the week to take any action to give Thomas time to explain the nature of his comments.
When asked whether he felt there was anything for which he should apologize, Thomas insisted on Saturday: "I never said it. I never said it."
When asked to elaborate, Thomas declined, suggesting he frequently had his comments misinterpreted by the media — including an infamous case in which he was quoted as saying that Celtic Larry Bird would be considered "just another good guy" rather than a mega-star, if he were black.
"You can't say that. You can say what you didn't say because if you say what you didn't say, than y'all print what is said. That's how you got me on the Bird stuff," Thomas said. "Whenever you say something, it just twists it."