Nesbitt denies equating ageism with racism after sparking row over 'elderly' fan who abused Zebo
Simon Zebo has been accused of "ageism" after the Irish rugby player said someone over the age of 40 was "elderly".
The winger was criticised by Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt over his comments on Twitter.
Zebo, who plays for French side Racing 92, made the remarks in an interview about the racist abuse he received from a fan at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast during a recent European Champions Cup game against Ulster.
Following a "robust investigation", Ulster banned the so-called fan for life.
Ulster also apologised to Racing and the player.
Zebo, who has thanked Ulster Rugby for taking action, described the person responsible as "an elderly man, like 40-plus".
Mr Nesbitt then tweeted: "First and foremost Simon Zebo should not have been abused by the Ulster fan who shouted something inappropriate - but Zebo shouldn't describe him as 'an elderly man, like 40-plus'. Ageism, racism, both wrong."
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after a barrage of criticism over the tweet, Mr Nesbitt said he was not looking to equate the two.
The former Ulster Unionist Party leader said he felt Zebo was not being malicious in his comments.
But he added: "I just think there was an irony in using the term 'elderly'. It's mildly inappropriate and certainly not something I would use.
"Clearly people don't read things on Twitter.
"I stated 'first and foremost Simon Zebo should not have been abused'.
"But in no way was I trying to equate racism and ageism."
Zebo told RugbyPass.com at the weekend: "There was an elderly man, like 40-plus... that's why it annoyed me.
"It's water off a duck's back now for me.
"I would be quite bullet-proof in terms of that.
"I think if I was to say nothing and just accept it, I would not be putting up much of a fight myself," said the Cork man, who has played 35 times for Ireland.
Mr Nesbitt said that as a "highly-paid role model", Zebo should have been more respectful.
But he added that "there's a crucial difference" between what the fan did and what Simon Zebo said.
A keen Ulster supporter, Mr Nesbitt said: "The fan set out to be deliberately abusive whereas Simon used inappropriate language, and I don't think deliberately so.
"I would have thought he would have been aware of the respect values of the IRFU, especially given he was an international for Ireland.
"It's not a huge thing but it's a term I would not use and I know if - when the committees were up and running at Stormont - you would have got a firm look if you had used the term instead of 'older people'.
"When you say 'elderly', for me, you would be considered closer to being infirm or maybe physically incapable."
He added: "That's just the impression I have formed over the years."