Megan Wyatt / Lafayette Advertiser
A sports reporter who covers Mississippi State University for a newspaper in Columbus, Mississippi, is apologizing for words he said on air about Lafayette and its people.
Matthew Stevens, a beat writer for The Commercial Dispatch, called Lafayette the "worst place in America," and his radio show co-hosts called its residents less than people who are impossible to understand.
The words were spoken Wednesday during "The Full Court Press," a regular feature on internet station Bulldog Sports Radio, but they went viral on a local level Thursday after Lafayette radio station KPEL 96.5 FM posted the audio clip to YouTube.
"I'm not going to go as far as to say that they're not people," Stevens said during the show. "But I don't know what they are because they don't speak English - and it's not French - but I don't know what it is."
Co-host Brian Hadad responded with, "They're the missing link - if you believe in evolution - between apes and humans, there's Cajuns."
From somebody who has spent his career working to right wrongs for the Cajun people, local attorney and cultural activist Warren Perrin says the words are spoken from "utter ignorance, prejudice and contempt."
"They did exactly what the British and Col. Charles Lawrence did to the Acadians three centuries ago: They judge all by the actions of a few. How sad we still find this in humanity, next door," Perrin said.
Stevens, 29, spent Thursday through Sunday in Lafayette to cover the NCAA Regional baseball tournament at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field, in which MSU fell to UL.
During his radio show, he said he drove around Lafayette for 90 minutes in search of a neighborhood where he might live and raise a family but found nothing.
He also said that the only thing Cajuns know how to do is cook and that America would be better off without Louisiana.
"I think what this should do," said City-Parish President Joey Durel, "is motivate us to open our arms and show how wrong he is rather than prove him to be right. This is just an opportunity for us to prove him wrong."
Stevens has since apologized through social media and media interviews.
"It's me saying it, not anybody else's voice, not a bad edit," Stevens said to The Advertiser. "But after proper reflection as to what kind of human being I want to be, that's not It. And I don't endorse what I said in that rant or the opinions I had in that rant."
Last weekend marked Stevens' first time in Lafayette, and he attributes most of his bad experience with the city to safety concerns from staying in a hotel on the north side of town.
"I did have a bad experience in Lafayette, but whatever kind of experience I had in Lafayette does not give me the right to say what was said in my radio program Wednesday," Stevens said. "I obviously hurt and offended and angered a lot of people, and I take full responsibility for that. That's on me, and I can't take it back."
Stevens is a native of east-central Illinois but has lived and worked in Mississippi for the past few years.
The managing editor of The Commercial Dispatch said he does not excuse what was said but does think that Stevens became carried away by the nature of a live radio show.
"I certainly hate that this has happened because it's not an accurate portrayal of the city or our paper," Slim Smith said. "What I was really disappointed in is his characterizing so many people in a city with such broad terms. It's not a fair assessment to make. This will be a teachable moment for Matt."
The staff of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission welcomes Stevens back for a better time.
"We have great people here," said Kelly Strenge, vice president of communications for LCVC. "It's not just great food. It's great times and nice neighborhoods and a great place to live."