Suspended Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie has said it is “beyond parody” for critics to describe his controversial article about Everton footballer Ross Barkley as “racist”.
News UK suspended him from the tabloid with immediate effect after Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson spoke to police about Friday’s column.
The article was headlined “Here’s why they go ape at Ross”, alongside a close-up photograph of Barkley’s eyes above the eyes of a gorilla.
England midfielder Barkley, 23, has a Nigerian grandfather, which Mr MacKenzie claimed he did not know about.
Mr MacKenzie wrote in the column: “Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers. There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home.
“I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story.
“So it came as no surprise to me that the Everton star copped a nasty right-hander in a nightclub for allegedly eyeing up an attractive young lady who, as they say, was ‘spoken for’.
“The reality is that at £60,000 a week and being both thick and single, he is an attractive catch in the Liverpool area, where the only men with similar pay packets are drug dealers and therefore not at nightclubs, as they are often guests of Her Majesty.”
Mr MacKenzie told the Press Association: “I had no idea of Ross Barkley’s family background and nor did anybody else. For the mayor of Liverpool and a handful of others to describe the article as racist is beyond parody.”
News UK described Mr MacKenzie’s comments in his column as “wrong” and “unfunny”.
In a statement, News UK said: “The Sun apologises for the offence caused. The paper was unaware of Ross Barkley’s heritage and there was never any slur intended.”
Barkley was punched in a Liverpool bar last weekend in what his lawyer described as an “unprovoked attack”.
Mr Anderson dismissed Mr MacKenzie’s defence of his column, telling the Press Association: “It’s no defence, is it, just because he didn’t know – he should have found out, as if he was calling himself a professional journalist. To call it a parody or whatever is a just nonsense – he’s a parody of a journalist.”
Burnley midfielder Joey Barton, who was an Everton youth player, tweeted: “Those comments about Ross Barkley, a young working class lad are disgusting. Then add in the fact he is mixed race! It’s becomes outrageous.”