The tipping point in the furor over Don Imus was that he didn't pick on someone his own size, commentators say.
People were outraged over Imus' description of members of the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," said Jemele Hill, a columnist for ESPN.com, "because they are women, because they are young women, because they are women who are doing nothing more than going to college and trying to be student athletes."
"I do think that if he would have said this about a celebrity, I still would have been offended," she said, "but I think … it was just basically like he picked on … innocent bystanders."
That was also the reaction of PBS' "Washington Week in Review" anchor Gwen Ifill, who was once dissed by the radio host.
In an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, Ifill wrote of the female hoopsters, "They are not old enough, or established enough, to have built up the sort of carapace many women I know -- black women in particular -- develop to guard themselves against casual insult."
Hill, who is also black, explained further.
"I don't want to give people the impression that the kind of insult Imus leveled against these women is very common or that it happens all the time," she said. "But I think any person that's a minority in this country has, at some point, had to confront race, has had to have an insult hurled at them. For these women, that was sort of the sad thing about it. I can't imagine being 19 or 20 years old and having to deal with something this heavy. In some ways, a certain kind of innocence was broken here."
For Martha Burk of the National Council for Women's Organizations, the most glaring aspect of the issue is that it's put sexism in the spotlight.
"Networks are notorious for tolerating sexism, less so for tolerating racism," she said. "And in terms of racism vs. sexism, I just want to say that the fact that it was women was why he gave himself permission to do it in the first place. I doubt if he would have done it for a men's team."
She said that there was a double standard in broadcasting.
"What is OK for a network to do on the race issue, for example," Burk said, "it's held to a higher standard than what they can do on gender. I think your big corporate leaders in the media and in other corporations need to realize that sexism is every bit as insidious as racism. I actually doubt in this current situation with Imus, if it had been an all-white team and it was only a sexist remark, if it would have risen to this level of clamor."
But it has, and many believe that the fallout now affects all female athletes.
"As it is, they're kind of ostracized in society still," Hill said. "To some degree they are accepted, but they're always kind of accepted with a wink and a smile. They're always looked at and gawked at in a particular way. And [the Rutgers women], all they did was play in a national championship title game, which is a tremendous achievement, only to be ridiculed just for the way that they look. This affects all women."
For more on the Imus controversy, check out ABC News Nows' "Top Priority."