Kelly Donohue, a three-time Jeopardy champ, insists he wasn’t making the hand gesture connected to white supremacy extremist groups. He quickly took to Facebook to condemn white supremacy.
“I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media,” Donohue said. “I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind. People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of Jeopardy! to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda. During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my 3rd win. There was nothing more I was trying to indicate.”
Jeopardy!’s Tuesday episode shows Donohue making the hand gesture, which the Anti-Defamation League claims has been co-opted by multiple far-right and white supremacist groups. The “white power” symbol sparked a wave of anger and frustration on social media, critics calling for an explanation from the Jeopardy! production team.
More than 450 former Jeopardy! contestants signed a letter Wednesday petitioning for the show to address the incident. The executives have not commented.
Donohue had previously filmed three episodes of Jeopardy!, winning each one and a total of $80,000. The 25-year-old contestant also raised more than $100,000 for charity, and completed his lifelong dream of competing on Jeopardy!
As outrage at his hand gesture poured in, the spotlight might have been too much for the three-time champ. “I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding,” Donohue continued. “I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists.”
In his previous wins, Donohue made similar hand gestures to mark the number of Jeopardy! wins. In an original Facebook post that was quickly deleted Donohue explained that tapping his heart with the three fingers was not a white supremacy signal, but rather an indication of his wins.
“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 in the now-deleted Facebook post. “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.”
Kelly Donohue mentioned the now-deleted post in his recent Facebook post, explaining that he “removed the previous post because the comments were more than I could bear. I stand by the statement itself and you can find it reported in other media. I did, however, understand the fair criticism that I did not include a forceful condemnation of white supremacy in my initial statement. I hope my feelings on that matter are clear now.”
Donohue lost his fourth episode to English professor Dana Schumacher-Schmidt. While explaining his hand gesture he said that “had I managed to repeat as champion, you’d have been treated to a 4.”