NEW YORK -- Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp., said Wednesday he hoped the broadcasting company would "make the smart decision" by firing radio talk-show host Don Imus for his slur against the mostly black Rutgers women's basketball team.
"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."
Some consequences already were evident.
A growing list of sponsors -- including American Express Co., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. -- said they were pulling ads from Imus' show for the indefinite future. And at the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J., about 300 students and faculty rallied to cheer for their team, which lost in the national championship game, and add their voices to the crescendo of calls for Imus' ouster.
Gordon, a longtime telecommunications executive, stepped down in March after 19 months as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the foremost U.S. civil rights organizations.
He said he had spoken with CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves and hoped the company, after reviewing the situation, would fire Imus rather than let him return to the air at the end of a two-week suspension beginning next Monday.
"We should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to what I see as irresponsible, racist behavior," Gordon said. "The Imus comments go beyond humor. Maybe he thought it was funny, but that's not what occurred."
Imus triggered the uproar on his April 4 show, when he referred to the Rutgers players as "nappy-headed hos." His comments have been widely denounced by civil rights and women's groups.
Gordon said that as a matter of principle, firing Imus should be an easy decision to make, though he respects the right of CBS leadership to consider all factors, including legal and financial repercussions.
"When I look at it from my position as a director, where my responsibility is to represent the best interest of the shareholders, it's more complex," Gordon said. "But at the end of the day, the image of CBS is at risk. ... The ad revenue of CBS could be at risk."
"What I expect is for management to take the next two weeks to do their homework," he said. "I hope that the result of their due diligence is to terminate Don Imus."
A CBS spokesman, Dana McClintock, declined to comment on the remarks by Gordon, who is the only black on the 13-member board. Other members declined to comment or could not be reached.
Shortly after Gordon's comments, General Motors -- one of the major advertisers on the Imus broadcasts -- became the latest sponsor to pull its ads, although GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said the decision would be reassessed later.
"This is a very fluid situation, and we'll just continue to monitor it as it goes forward when he returns to the air," she said.
At the Rutgers rally, a New Jersey state senator, Nia Gill, called for a boycott of any advertisers who continued to sponsor Imus' show.
The show originates from WFAN-AM in New York City and is syndicated nationally by Westwood One, both of which are managed by CBS Corp. MSNBC, which simulcasts the show on cable and is a part of NBC Universal, says it will monitor future shows to see whether Imus changes the tenor.
The 10 members of the Rutgers team spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the on-air comments, made the day after the team lost the NCAA championship game to Tennessee. Some of them wiped away tears as their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, criticized Imus for "racist and sexist remarks that are deplorable, despicable, abominable and unconscionable."
The women, eight of whom are black, agreed to meet with Imus privately next Tuesday and hear his explanation. They held back from saying whether they'd accept Imus' apologies or passing judgment on whether a two-week suspension imposed by CBS Radio and MSNBC was sufficient.
The Black Coaches Association said Wednesday it was "disgusted" by Imus' remark and urged his immediate dismissal.
Gordon said he was unimpressed by defenders of Imus who depict him as a well-meaning commentator who mistakenly went too far.
"The defense that he is a nice guy is irrelevant," Gordon said. "The people to be concerned about are the nice women at Rutgers University who continue even in the face of this insult to carry themselves with dignity."
Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He said Tuesday he hadn't been thinking when making a joke that went "way too far." He also said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an "ill-informed" choice.
One reason his suspension does not start until next week is that Imus is scheduled to host a charity radiothon for WFAN on Thursday and Friday.
At the Rutgers rally, one of the speakers was Chidimma Acholonu, president of the campus chapter of the NAACP.
"This is not a battle against one man. This is a battle against a way of thought," she said. "Don Imus does not understand the power of his words, so it is our responsibility to remind him."