Hundreds of former “Jeopardy!” contestants have signed on to an open letter urging the show’s producers to denounce a hand gesture made by a recent winner that is alleged to be aligned with white supremacist beliefs.
On a recent episode of the game show, contestant Kelly Donohue had just won his third consecutive game when he flashed a hand signal that was once known as signifying “okay” but in recent years has come to mean “white power.” The symbol, in which the thumb and forefinger form a circle while the other three fingers are extended, has been designated a “hate symbol” by the Anti-Defamation League.
Following the episode, more than 450 former “Jeopardy!” contestants signed an open letter published on Medium.
“A recent contestant has caused concern among ‘Jeopardy!’ viewers for two separate occurrences, and we as former contestants feel the need to speak out against the messaging that these choices communicated — either intentionally or unintentionally — by the contestant Kelly Donohue and, implicitly by association, the producers of Jeopardy!” the letter reads.
The letter also calls for Donohue to publicly apologize “for the ramifications of the gesture he made” and disavow “any connection to white supremacist doctrines.” In addition, the contestants also urge the show’s producers to “address Kelly’s behaviour” and enact safeguards to make sure that “future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”
In a since-deleted Facebook post addressing the backlash, Donohue claimed that extending his three fingers was meant to symbolize his third victory on the show.
“Many of the great champions of old had a little signature hello they would do on-screen when being introduced by Johnny Gilbert,” he wrote. “I decided to count my victories. That’s a 1. That’s a 2. That’s a 3. No more. No less. There wasn’t a hidden agenda or any malice behind it. Had I managed to repeat as champion, you’d have been treated to a 4.”
Presented without comment, here is Kelly's response: pic.twitter.com/snnQPUL9wc
— Alex Jacob (@whoisalexjacob) April 28, 2021
Representatives for “Jeopardy!” have yet to comment on the backlash.
Meanwhile, the Snopes website, renowned for debunking urban myths, is calling claims that Donahue’s gesture was in support of white supremacy “false.”
“We note that in this case, Donohue wasn’t even necessarily making the ‘OK’ gesture because his palm was facing his chest and his thumb and forefinger appeared to be tucked in. In context, it appeared to be nothing more than a gesture signifying his status as three-time winner,” wrote Snopes. “We reached out to ‘Jeopardy!’ for comment, and will update when and if we receive a response. Our attempt to locate Donohue for comment have so far been unsuccessful.”
In a followup address, Donohue denied any wrongdoing and denounced racism. He stands by his original post and only deleted it because of the comments that were left on the post. Donohue conceded, however, that he should have condemned white supremacy.
ET Canada has reached out to “Jeopardy!” for a comment.