‘Jeopardy!’: The Bizarre Incident – and Outrage – Involving the Contestant Accused of Displaying a Racist Hand Gesture

This week on Jeopardy!, contestant Kelly Donohue was widely criticized for displaying a hand symbol many viewed as a white power gesture during the contestant introductions at the top of the answer-and-question show.

Donohue says those making this claim are greatly mistaken.

The set of the game show 'Jeopardy!'
The set of the game show ‘Jeopardy!’ | David Becker/Getty Images

How the ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant came to be accused of racism

On his last appearance on the show this week, Tuesday’s show, Donohue displayed three fingers when he was introduced. The contestant explained later that this was to represent his three wins as he began his quest for a fourth.

Unfortunately, the symbol he made with his right hand greatly resembles a gesture that is used by white supremacists, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

A concerned group referring to themselves as former contestants posted an open letter to Medium this week expressing their outrage over Donohue’s alleged offense. Their letter said in part, that the contestant’s symbol, “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.”

The former contestants also noted Donohue’s use of the offensive term, “gypsy,” in answer to a clue. Guest host Anderson Cooper corrected Donohue, stating “that Roma or Romani be used instead.”

Donohue’s reaction to the Internet blowing up about him

The three-time Jeopardy! winner was bewildered at the criticisms leveled at him. He adamantly denied the accusations labeling him a racist and bigot.

In a since-deleted Facebook post the bank examiner wrote, “I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media. 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.”

No reaction from ‘Jeopardy!’ execs yet

As of yet, there have been no statements about the controversy from Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards.

In their final word to Richards, the former contestants in their open letter remarked on the silence from the top, writing, “As people whose lives have been largely beneficially impacted by this show and its community, we really hope to see a statement and a disavowal of both of this week’s events, and we would like to see “Jeopardy!” address Kelly’s behavior. We hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”


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The former players took aim as well at Richards for a recent statement of his, calling it “a wink and a nod by white men about their superiority.”

Richards had said, “I think politically, the country is incredibly divided and that makes me sad, and I really have always thought that ‘Jeopardy!’ is a great uniter that way. It is apolitical and there’s no place for divisiveness on it in any way, and that is what I want it to be going forward.”

The producer may need to address these contestants’ comments as they may represent the feelings of many others, beyond fans and players.