Al Roker defends the meteorologist who was fired for a racist slur

Viewers split on whether slur was intentional

By CNN'S MARCUS MABRY AND AMIR VERA CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill

1954: Weatherman, actor and author Al Roker, best known for being the weather anchor on NBC's "Today" show, is born in Queens, New York.

(CNN) - The meteorologist fired over the use of a racial slur on air just got a big defender -- high-profile weatherman Al Roker.

Roker, a longtime personality on NBC's "Today" show, defended former WHEC-TV meteorologist Jeremy Kappell after he was fired for saying "Martin Luther Coon Park" when referring to a park named after Martin Luther King Jr. in Rochester, New York.

In a video viewed by CNN, Kappell says "King" immediately after using the slur and continues with the broadcast.

"I think @JeremyKappell made an unfortunate flub and should be given the chance to apologize on @news10nbc Anyone who has done live tv and screwed up (google any number of ones I've done) understands," Roker tweeted Wednesday.

Viewers of Kappell's Friday night broadcast from were split on whether they think he intentionally or accidentally used the slur.

Kappell has repeatedly said it was an accident -- the result of speaking too quickly and jumbling sounds in a name.

On Wednesday, Kappell publicly thanked Roker for coming to his defense.

"Al, thank you very much," Kappell tweeted. "Your support means so much to this family."

This isn't the first time Roker has made comments about fellow members of the media under fire for perceived racism.

Last year, then-NBC talk show host Megyn Kelly defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes. She later apologized, but Roker said "she owes a bigger apology to folks of color across the country."

In defending Kappell, Roker said slips of the tongue are easy mistakes to make in live news.

Critics of Kappell said the slur is probably in his regular vocabulary for it to have come out so naturally.

"wowww that video. he definitely says that all the time, which is why it slipped out on air," said Twitter user @notmuchelse.

But Kappell's supporters noted how easy it is to jumble the long "o" sound in "Luther" with the "k" sound in "King," or the sounds in "King" and "Junior" when speaking quickly.

"Say 'King' and 'Junior' 5 times fast and tell me what happens," responded another Twitter user, @JaredG_13_.

More than 33,000 people have signed a petition supporting Kappell, saying he was fired unfairly without being given a chance to explain or apologize.

"We want Jeremy Kappell back on the air," the petition reads.

In response to a critic who said the on-air remark was "racist and willful," Kappell responded:

"You are out of your mind to think I would jeopardize future of my family and career to insert a racial slur against the GREATEST civil rights leader of all time?!?! #Ridiculous #Hateful #Judgemental and #youdontknowthefirsthingaboutme!"

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