Returning “Jeopardy” champ Kelly Donohue denies that he was using a white power symbol when he appeared on the show this week, but former contestants are calling the gesture a “racist dog whistle” and have demanded an apology.
Kelly, who amassed $80,000 in prize money from his three-game winning streak, appeared for a fourth time on Tuesday, when he held up three fingers and tapped his chest during his introduction.
Though in prior episodes, he has made similar gestures holding up one finger, then two, to denote his wins, and “no reasonable person would have interpreted those gestures differently,” former contestants said in an open letter. They decided that the hand gesture he used to represent his three-peat was “not a clear-cut symbol for the number three.”
“He held his thumb and forefinger together with his other three fingers extended and palm facing inward, and he tapped his chest,” the letter, which was signed by more than 400 contestants described. “This, whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been co-opted by white power groups, alt-right groups, and an anti-government group that calls itself the Three Percenters.”
Kelly responded with a Facebook post that simply read: “That’s a 3. No more. No less,” and the cover photo of his profile displayed legendary singer Frank Sinatra posing with a similar gesture. But the former contestants were not swayed by his explanation. “Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle,” they wrote.
The group also alleged that in the episode before the incident, Kelly had used the term “gypsy,” in response to a clue, which was considered a racial slur, but noted, “until recently, it was widely used by English speakers.”
The former contestants implored the show to address Kelly’s behavior and a public apology from the champ himself. “If something has been misconstrued, an apology and a total disavowal of any connection to white supremacist doctrines is called for,” they demanded. “We saw that gesture air on television. We are among the public it affected, and we are a diverse group of people.”