A cable sports network says it no longer will make Athol the butt of its jokes.
Comcast SportsNet said Thursday it would pull a newspaper ad that leaders of the small central Massachusetts town called insulting and offensive.
The ad featured two side-by-side signs that together read: "We can pronounce Worcester ... without sounding like an Athol."
A network spokesman said it apologized Thursday to the town and Selectman Wayne Miller, who raised the issue this week after residents complained that the ad ridiculed Athol by linking its name to a similarly sounding vulgarity.
Town selectmen voted Tuesday to have the town attorney write a letter of protest to the company, and Miller also urged residents to boycott papers if they ran the ads.
It was even more offensive, they said, because the advertisement required mispronouncing Athol to make its point. The correct pronunciation is "ATH'-awl."
"There's always been this, shall we say, 'humorous' pronunciation," Miller said Thursday. "If one person is doing it, that's nothing to worry about. But you have to draw the line when a major company uses it to make money."
Comcast SportsNet spokesman Skip Perham said Thursday the ad was intended as a humorous play on words, but that they respect Miller's concerns. Its reference to the odd pronunciations of some Massachusetts town names was meant to underscore the ad campaign's tag line: "If you live here, you get it."
The network will immediately stop publishing the ad, which last appeared in Thursday's editions of the Boston Herald. Perham said it ran periodically to promote one of Comcast SportsNet's regular sports analysis and interview programs.
Athol, a town of about 11,500 in north-central Massachusetts, is believed to have been named for the Scottish second Duke of Atholl, who died two years after the town was incorporated in 1762.
That's the legacy modern-day Athol residents and leaders promote, though Miller said they recognize they have to accept a certain amount of lowbrow humor.
"Obviously we've heard it before," he said.
Selectman Susannah Whipps was the lone selectmen of the five to vote against sending the letter to the network. She told the Telegram and Gazette newspaper of Worcester that she was not offended by the ad, and predicted the publicity would help Comcast.
She was more concerned, she said, about vandals who add an "r" and an "e" to town signs to change the name to "rathole."