Reverend Al Sharpton defended Paula Deen, saying she should be held accountable for acts committed now and not those committed 20 years ago. The disgraced celebrity chef is in the midst of a media firestorm following the revelation she admitted to using a racial epithet.
Lisa T. Jackson, a manager at Deen's Savannah, Ga., restaurant, filed a lawsuit against Deen and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers, last year for sexual harassment and racial discrimination. In a May deposition, Deen admitted to using the N-word in the past and to planning a "southern plantation-style wedding" with black servers. Since the testimony surfaced, Deen has been fired by the Food Network, and her deal with QVC is in limbo.
TMZ caught up with Sharpton and asked for his opinion on the debacle.
"A lot of us have in the past said things we have regretted saying years ago," he replied. "I think she has a lawsuit now about activities now whether it was discriminatory. And whether or not she's engaged in things now. It's not about her past. ... She deserves what's fair, but that's based on what she's engaged in now."
"You cannot deal with what is fair or not fair until we see an outcome of the present circumstances she is accused of, not something that happened 20 years ago," he added.
Sharpton isn't the only one who has offered his two cents on the unfolding drama. Deen also received unlikely support from comedian Bill Maher.
"If you're 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the civil rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?" he asked on his show Friday, adding, "I also think that people shouldn't have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad. ... It's just a word, it's a wrong word, she's wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?"
Pastor Gregory A. Tyson Sr., an African-American pastor at First Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah, also came to Deen's defense. He told local station WTOC the chef is a friend to him and to the black community. Using the N-word, he posits, does not automatically make her a racist.
Deen apologized in three video recordings released in the aftermath of the testimony leak, originally published by the National Enquirer. She begged for forgiveness and insisted she and her family are being misjudged by the press. She will address the public again in a "Today" show appearance Wednesday, after failing to appear for her "Today" interview last Friday.
Fans took to social media to criticize the Food Network for firing Deen so abruptly, and a horde gathered at her Savannah restaurant in a display of support.