Jeremy Kappell says it was an honest mistake, one he never got a chance to apologize for until after he was fired for it.
The former chief meteorologist at NBC affiliate WHEC in Rochester, New York, says he was talking too fast during a recent forecast when he tripped over his words while trying to pronounce Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s name. What came out was a racial slur used toward black people.
"This is the way it looked out in Martin Luther c--- King Jr. Park," he said on air Friday.
Kappell says he jumbled his words, combining “king” and “junior,” and didn’t realize what the result sounded like to some people.
"Two words mashed together incorrectly. What I said wasn't even a word, it was a sound — people, I believe, read into that,” he told TODAY in an interview.
Nobody addressed the slip-up on air, but outrage grew online over the weekend.
Late Sunday night, the station fired Kappell.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who had called for the dismissal, criticized station management in a statement for being slow to act and saying it “was shamed into doing so by a backlash on social media."
Kappell has since taken to Facebook to apologize.
"For him to be called a racist — it just makes me very sad. I was sickened. We teach our children the message of loving others,” Kappell's wife, Lisa, told TODAY.
Critics online called Kappell's mistake both "racist" and "willful," but the meteorologist also has received a wave of support.
“This is ridiculous" wrote one Twittter user. "I'm a bleeding heart liberal and I can see that this was just a flub. Hope you get an even better job!"
Kappell said he was never given a chance to publicly apologize before he was fired.
"Of course, I don't harbor any racist thoughts," he told TODAY. "They're not thinking through why a guy over 20 years in his profession who's never been accused of anything like this before — why would I all of a sudden try to slip that in there? I don't get it."
In a statement released Tuesday night to NBC News, WHEC described "an utterance such as this, with no immediate apology, regardless of intent, is unacceptable and inexcusable.
“Since our decision to terminate his employment, this station has been caught in the middle of a vitriolic political debate,” the station said. “We believe we have done what is right for our station and our community, and will continue to take a strong stand for our personal and professional values."
Similar on-air slip-ups — involving the same word — have also happened with two other local weathermen and former ESPN host Mike Greenberg. One of the weathermen was fired, the other two men were not.
During a discussion with TODAY anchors after the story aired, Craig Melvin said he could see himself in Kappell's shoes.
"Anyone who has done this as long as we've done it, on air, you flub. You make mistakes. It would seem as if the guy made a genuine mistake," he said.
Al Roker agreed, chiming in on social media.
"I think @JeremyKappell made an unfortunate flub and should be given the chance to apologize on @news10nbc," he wrote in a tweet. "Anyone who has done live tv and screwed up (google any number of ones I’ve done) understands."