Ex-SeaWorld Trainer Responds To Video Of Him Using Racial Slurs
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla canceled a signing with a former SeaWorld trainer who penned a book criticizing the company's treatment of its killer whales after an executive at the theme park made public a video showing the author using racial slurs.
The video made public Tuesday shows John Hargrove — who worked at SeaWorld as a killer whale trainer for 12 years and is the author of the new book, “Beneath the Surface” — using the n-word while on speakerphone with a woman. He’s also intoxicated.
Hargrove told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the video — where he uses the racial slur to describe a group of black men — will hurt his reputation.
“I don’t think that it will for the people who truly know me,” said Hargrove, whose book criticizes SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales. “It’s certainly offensive language and it should’ve never been used. I was so heavily intoxicated — I barely recall any of those events. Clearly, it’s not funny.”
He said he cringed when he saw the video and regrets making the comments, but that it has nothing to do with his experience as a killer whale trainer or his experience at SeaWorld.
“What’s more shocking is that SeaWorld would push it out to all the media outlets when it has nothing to do with my book or my career as a killer whale trainer,” Hargrove said. “It was a smear campaign. This has nothing to do with my skill set as a killer whale trainer.”
Hargrove joined KPBS Midday Edition after initially canceling his appearance when the video was leaked. He then reconsidered and joined KPBS by phone.
Hargrove, who also appeared in the controversial documentary “Blackfish,” said his book digs deeper into the stories of the SeaWorld trainers and the treatment of killer whales. He tells stories of previously unreported incidents and situations where he said trainers where forced to be kept silent.
“I was happy at SeaWorld for a long time. Then, slowly over time, you see the damaging effects of captivity on these animals,” Hargrove said. “It (book) just highlights the true culture of the corporation.”
Prior to Hargrove’s initial cancellation on Midday, SeaWorld's vice president of communications, Fred Jacobs, emailed the video to KPBS. He said the company received the video from an “internal whistleblower."
"I understand that you are planning to report on John Hargrove’s book this week. As we have said all along, 'Blackfish' star John Hargrove, has repeatedly provided statements that are misleading, false or in conflict with statements he has made previously,” Jacobs said in the email. "As someone who might report on Mr. Hargrove and his book, 'Beneath the Surface,' we believe it is important that you see this video we received just this weekend from an internal whistleblower. We are offended by John’s behavior and language. The video is particularly reprehensible since John Hargrove is wearing a SeaWorld shirt. SeaWorld would have terminated Hargrove’s employment immediately had we known he engaged in this kind of behavior."
SeaWorld officials declined to be interviewed on KPBS Midday Edition for Wednesday’s show.
The company's image has suffered since the release of "Blackfish," a documentary about a Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity at the theme park.
This was the first book signing the independent bookstore in La Jolla has canceled in its history, which spans seven decades. After the owners learned of the video, they made the decision to cancel Hargrove’s event.
“We have never canceled an event before,” Adrian Newell of Warwick's said. “This has nothing to do with SeaWorld.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect date for the canceled book signing.
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