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Deen dropped by Caesars Entertainment; local businessman launches initiative

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Matt Lauer interviewed Paula Deen on the TODAY Show Wednesday. Matt Lauer interviewed Paula Deen on the TODAY Show Wednesday.
Paula Deen at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino buffet. Paula Deen at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino buffet.
Mark Gunn Mark Gunn

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Paula Deen took to the TODAY show Wednesday morning to defend her reputation. The down-home foodie celebrity has been the target of criticism, since the release of a lawsuit deposition in which she acknowledged using racial slurs decades ago.

"One of the headline's I read Paula, said that there--said millions of dollars at stake for Paula Deen in Today show interview. So are you here to express what you just said, or are you here to stop the financial bleeding," questioned Matt Lauer.

"I am here today because I want people to know who I am," said Deen. "And people who have worked beside me, have walked beside me know what kind of person I am. And I-I'm so distressed that people I've never heard of are all of a sudden experts on who I am. And you know what distresses me the very most, Matt? Their words are being given weight."

Deen emphatically denies that she harbors racist thoughts. But, is losing key corporate partners in the process. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network. Smithfield Foods announced on Monday it was dropping her as a spokeswoman as well. On Wednesday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced that it has ended its relationship with Paula Deen. The world's largest retailer said it will not place "any new orders beyond what's already committed." The discounter says it will work with suppliers on existing inventories.

On Wednesday, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which operates Horseshoe Southern Indiana, announced it has reached a mutual agreement with Paula Deen Enterprises not to renew the two companies' business relationship. Caesars operates Paula Deen-themed restaurants at four of its properties. Caesars intends to rebrand the restaurants in the coming months.

"While we appreciate Paula's sincere apologies for statements she made in her past that she recently disclosed during a deposition given in response to a lawsuit, after thoughtful consideration of their impact, we have mutually decided that it is in the best interests of both parties to part ways at this time," said Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of communications and government affairs for Caesars Entertainment.

"Nobody and I mean nobody in their right mind wants to be associated with racism," said Mark Gunn. Gunn is a businessman and 35 year radio and TV veteran. Gunn is launching a campaign in light of the Deen controversy.

"The campaign is called "My N***A? NO! initiative," said Gunn. Gunn is challenging African Americans who use the N-word to stop using it.

"People will argue well we can say this word but, you can't," said Gunn. "And when they make that argument it's rather hypocritical. We've spent 400 years living with this word that is so demeaning and has done so much damage."

Gunn is asking other Black media outlets and businesses to encourage respect.

"The casual use of the word may not have had the sting it did back then but, it sure as heck stings a lot more now," said Gunn.

Deen's business empire is worth an estimated $17 million.

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