ESPN Employees Blast Network’s ‘Culture of Sexism and Hostile Treatment of Women’

AP Jessica Hill
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

ESPN assembled their employees on Wednesday to address the network’s social media policy, and how to handle controversial political issues.

However, according to several current employees, ESPN needs to have at least one additional company meeting: to address the company’s “culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women.”

On Tuesday, ESPN suspended radio hosts and former NFL players Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, after allegations surfaced that the two sexually harassed a woman at the NFL Network.

Two days later, the Boston Globe, ran a story describing a culture of harassment and sexism at ESPN.

In a piece titled, “At ESPN, the Problems for Women Run Deep,” Jenn Abelson writes: “Men have made unwanted sexual propositions to female colleagues, given unsolicited shoulder rubs, and openly rated women on their looks, and, in at least one case, sent shirtless selfies, according to interviews with roughly two dozen current and former employees.”

Adrienne Lawrence, a former ESPN employee who has filed a complaint against the network, says that ESPN has “a deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women.”

Specifically, Lawrence accused longtime SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross of several incidents of inappropriate contact. Such as calling her “dollface,” “#dreamgirl,” “#longlegs,” as well as sending unsolicited shirtless pictures of himself to Lawrence.

After Lawrence complained about Buccigross’s behavior to ESPN, according to her filing with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, she was told to drop the issue

The Globe article goes into detail on the interaction between Buccigross and Lawrence:

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.

“I considered Adrienne to be a friend,” Buccigross said in a statement to the Globe. “I’m sorry if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn’t my intent.”

Buccigross noted that after he sent the first shirtless picture, Lawrence texted about the possibility of getting together that weekend. Buccigross said they texted frequently over a couple of months and talked about personal issues as well as advice on improving her on-air delivery.

ESPN said it conducted a “thorough investigation” and found Lawrence’s claims to be “entirely without merit.” Lawrence was never guaranteed a permanent position, ESPN said, and it notified her at the same time that other employees were told that their contracts would not be renewed.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities released Lawrence’s complaint at her request so she could sue in federal court rather than wait for the agency to make a ruling.

As part of her testimony in the trial of a stalker who leaked naked videos of her, Erin Andrews said ESPN would not let her return to work until she did an interview to make it clear that Andrews did not leak the videos herself. Andrews testified that she was so distraught about having to do the interview, that she was crying while waiting to go on stage with Oprah Winfrey in 2009.

Former Jets reporter and one-time ESPN applicant Jenn Sterger, relates a story about how she was invited to a strip club by current fantasy football expert Matthew Berry. At the time, Berry was auditioning for a spot on The Fantasy Show.

Sterger says she did not realize, at first, that they were headed to a strip club. She said the event also involved several other males who were auditioning for ESPN jobs. Sterger also says she felt uncomfortable, and was teased about feeling uncomfortable.

Sterger also claims that an ESPN executive showed her a copy of a Playboy, that she had modeled for.

Incidents such as these might explain why ESPN quickly abandoned its relationship with Barstool Sports, when female employees such as Sam Ponder began criticizing the network for bringing on a website she believed to be associated with sexist comments.

Sterger told the Globe, “Sexual harassment for women in sports journalism is a huge problem. But it’s one we have been taught from day one comes with the territory.”

That problem apparently continues at ESPN. A current female ESPN employee told the Globe, “It’s like cutting your arm in an ocean full of sharks. The second new blood is in the water, they start circling.”

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