ESPN sure talks a good game about social justice, equality and women's rights. But it's all talk, according to The Boston Globe's Jenn Abelson, who reports the network has a major problem with the mistreatment of female employees that runs deep.
Though President John Skipper recently crowed about the success of ESPN, the network is facing a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and a federal lawsuit. It's only the tip of the iceberg for what appears to be the "Extremely Sleazy Progressive Network."
The messages for women at ESPN are that sexual harassment comes with the territory and don't get pregnant if you hope to stay gainfully employed. Abelson writes:
(O)ver the years, the company has been plagued by sexual misconduct scandals that have resulted in several lawsuits and filled the pages of at least two books, “ESPN: The Uncensored History,” and “Those Guys Have All the Fun.” Many employees have said the isolated location in Bristol only exacerbates problems in a male-dominated workplace.
Earlier this week, ESPN suspended NFL analysts Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, who were sued for sexually harassing an employee at the NFL Network. ESPN spokeswoman Katina Arnold said, “We work hard to maintain a respectful and inclusive culture at ESPN. It is always a work in progress, but we’re proud of the significant progress we’ve made in developing and placing women in key roles at the company in the boardroom, in leadership positions throughout ESPN, and on air.”
Abelson says, "ESPN has tried to jettison its frat-boy reputation with new training and policies, including requiring employees to disclose personal relationships with each other to the company." But major problems persist and Abelson said "the problems for women run deep." Charges range from insensitivity to women to sexual harassment, retaliation and pregnancy discrimination.
Adrienne Lawrence (pictured in photo), who filed the complaint this summer, charges: “ESPN has failed to address its deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women." She called ESPN's work environment "toxic" and accused men of making "unwanted sexual and romantic advances under the guise of networking or mentoring, and 'mark' women as their own by spreading false rumors about sexual relationships with female employees."
Lawrence accused Sports Center anchor John Buccigross of sending her unsolicited shirtless photographs of himself and calling her “dollface,” “#dreamgirl” and “#longlegs” in messages. She repeatedly complained to higher-ups and was told to drop the matter, according to her complaint. ESPN reduced her hours and denied her application for full-time work, but said it conducted a “thorough investigation” and found Lawrence’s claims to be “entirely without merit.”
Erin Andrews, who left ESPN in 2012 and now reports for Fox Sports, said she was humiliated by ESPN after a stalker released videos of her undressing at a hotel. She said the network forced her to prove she didn’t release the materials herself.
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Abelson reports that current and former employees say older men at ESPN are preying on younger women:
“It’s like cutting your arm in an ocean full of sharks,” said one current employee, who said she has received unwanted physical contact from one colleague and listened to another rate women on a score of one to 10. “The second new blood is in the water, they start circling.”
A former employee is reported to have faced sexual harassment from four men and that complaints to human resources went nowhere.
After Sports Center vice-president Mike McQuade questioned her commitment, former anchor Sara Walsh was so fearful of getting fired that she endured a miscarriage on the air rather than call in sick. Walsh's work assignments were then reduced, a move that she viewed as retaliation for speaking up. Then days before Walsh planned to go on maternity leave last spring she was part of ESPN's layoff of 100 employees.
Anchors Jade McCarthy and Lindsay Czarniak said they lost work opportunities or got demoted after becoming pregnant. ESPN settled a lawsuit out of court with a former employee who claimed she was fired in 2005 due to her pregnancy. Are these all coincidences?
Then there was the partnership ESPN entered into this fall with Barstool Sports, a vulgar blog with a history of disrespecting women, including Sam Ponder of ESPN and Jenn Sterger, who said she was harased when she interviewed for a job at ESPN. Current and former female employees at ESPN spoke out and the network canceled the partnership.
“Sexual harassment for women in sports journalism is a huge problem,” Sterger said, “but it’s one we have been taught from day one comes with the territory.”
Also, in 2015, The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre reported that ESPN settled a claim with make-up artist Sue Baumann over her allegations of sexual harassment by former NFL Countdown host Chris Berman, once called "the face of ESPN." A spokesman for ESPN said the charges had no merit and it settled to eliminate costly litigation.