The Boston Globe just dropped a major bomb on ESPN Thursday afternoon. The venerable paper dug deep into the network’s culture and the treatment of women by its employees. There were several bombshells in the expansive piece, but none more damaging than the big names accused of sexual harassment.
Here is one particularly troubling excerpt:
Some women said that the environment at ESPN can be so hostile — and plum positions for female sports journalists so precarious — that they hid pregnancies and felt pressured to take short maternity leaves in order to protect their positions. One anchor even did her scheduled broadcast while she was having a miscarriage to prove her commitment to her job, according to former employees.
Another woman, one of the few solo female anchors on SportsCenter, said she was told her show was moving in another direction and she’d no longer have a job on it weeks before she went on maternity leave last year. She is one of several who said they were given less desirable positions or laid off before, during, or after maternity leave.
Despite trying to get rid of its reputation as a boys club, the article paints ESPN as a horrendous work environment for its female employees.
One of the prominent staffers accused of unwanted sexual and romantic advances was long-time employee John Buccigross:
But others are speaking openly. In her complaint, Adrienne Lawrence describes a toxic environment at ESPN headquarters where men make 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 John Buccigross, a longtime SportsCenter anchor who she viewed as a mentor, of sending unsolicited shirtless photographs of himself and calling her “dollface,” “#dreamgirl,” and “#longlegs” in messages from 2016 reviewed by the Globe. Lawrence said she tried to remain cordial in the messages but at one point responded: “You need to wear clothes, sir.”
When rumors spread that the two were in a relationship, Lawrence repeatedly complained to company officials and was advised by a supervisor to drop the matter, according to the complaint.
Lawrence said ESPN retaliated against her by reducing her on-air shifts and ultimately denying her a permanent position. The other fellow, a male, received a job offer. The Globe interviewed three former employees who Lawrence had confided in at the time about her treatment and confirmed her account.
Buccigross, roughly two decades older than Lawrence, acknowledged sending the photos but denied starting any rumors that the two were in a relationship.
ESPN claims it conducted an investigation and found Lawrence’s claims to be “entirely without merit” despite Buccigross admitting to sending the photos and texts.
Then there’s this nugget about Jenn Sterger’s involvement with ESPN:
The Barstool partnership also drew fire from Jenn Sterger, a writer and actress, who felt she had been sexually harassed at ESPN when she tried out for an on-air position in 2006.
“Since we are being honest, I will say this: I HATE how Barstool Sports treats women. But the other side is JUST as bad,” Sterger tweeted in October.
During her months-long audition, Sterger said an executive showed her a copy of a Playboy magazine that she had modeled for and then she was taken to a strip club by Matthew Berry, who was interviewing as a contributor for The Fantasy Show.
The strip club outing was not a formal ESPN activity, but it followed a dinner with company employees and involved several male job candidates. Sterger said she initially did not realize where they were going and she was teased about being uncomfortable once there.
This section about Sara Walsh is also awful:
But some current and former employees describe a highly competitive environment where female anchors feel disposable and where their dedication is sometimes challenged by male superiors. That’s what colleagues say happened to Sara Walsh, the anchor who had the on-air miscarriage.
Shortly after Mike McQuade took over as vice president of SportsCenter in 2014, he questioned Walsh’s commitment because she also worked for The Fantasy Show during the football season. Walsh, who had recently signed a multi-year contract and helped host an opening for ESPN’s new digital center, was shocked that her new boss was raising concerns, according to three former employees briefed on the matter at the time.
Walsh was so worried about her job that she decided not to call in sick when she started bleeding from a miscarriage during a work trip to Alabama. Instead, she went to the studio and anchored the show. She described the on-air miscarriage in an Instagram post on Mother’s Day this past year, but Walsh told the Globe she could not comment because she is still under contract.
ESPN will certainly have to answer these charges, and it will put the network under intense scrutiny in the current environment we’re in.
Given the network’s place in the sports media landscape, if the environment within the company is truly as bad as the article suggests, the fallout from this could be wide-ranging for the Worldwide Leader.