A “Jeopardy!” contestant has faced backlash after making a hand gesture widely associated with white supremacy at the start of the quiz show on Tuesday, April 27.

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What happened with Kelly Donohue on ‘Jeopardy!’?

Kelly Donohue was on a three-day winning streak going into Tuesday’s game. At the start of that episode, as the contestants were being introduced, Donohue made an “OK” sign with his hand and held it to his chest.

In the two “Jeopardy!” episodes prior to Tuesday night, Donohue had gestured with one and two fingers to indicate his wins, Deadline reported. The contestant has stated that holding up three fingers on Tuesday was no different.

But in recent years, that gesture has become associated with hate groups —specifically white supremacists — leading the Anti-Defamation League to classify it as a symbol of hate in 2019, The Wrap reported.

Donohue’s gesture sparked outcry from many fans, leading to an open letter — signed by nearly 600 former contestants as of Thursday — demanding an apology from Donohue and “Jeopardy!” producers.

  • “Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle,” the letter reads. “Some of the first people to notice this were not affiliated with ‘Jeopardy!’ in any way — they were viewers who couldn’t believe what they’d seen, captured it on video, and shared it to Twitter. Among them were people of color who, needless to say, are attuned to racist messaging and not appreciative that the show allowed this symbol to be broadcast.”

On Thursday, Donohue — who had previously written “That’s a 3. No more. No less” on his Facebook account — issued a formal apology.

  • “I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media,” Donohue wrote on Facebook Thursday. “I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind. People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of ‘Jeopardy!’ to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda.
  • “During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my 3rd win,” he continued. “There was nothing more I was trying to indicate. I deeply regret this terrible misunderstanding. I never meant to hurt a soul and I assure you I am no friend of racists or white supremacists.”

Going forward

“Jeopardy!” has not issued a statement about the controversy. But former “Jeopardy!” contestants have called for change going forward.

  • “We know that contestants sign morals and ethics-related agreements when they prepare to appear on the show, and we would ask the production team to evaluate this situation within that framework,” reads the open letter signed by former “Jeopardy!” contestants. “We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing. Finally, we hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this magnitude never make it on air.”

Donohue, a bank examiner from Winthrop, Massachusetts, lost on Tuesday night after a three-game winning streak earned him $79,601, according to a daily “Jeopardy!” recap.

On Friday, Anderson Cooper wraps up his two-week stint as “Jeopardy!” guest host. Bill Whitaker, a “60 Minutes” correspondent, will host May 3-14, the Deseret News reported.