ESPN has screened some of the most dramatic sporting events of all time. But the network itself has also been at the center of numerous sensational behind-the-scenes stories. And here’s a look at 20 of them – all of which put one of America’s great sporting institutions in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
20. Skip Bayless “outs” Troy Aikman
Former First Take commentator Skip Bayless, who left ESPN for Fox Sports in 2016, is renowned for shooting his mouth off about particular players. But he went a little too far when he speculated about the sexuality of quarterback Troy Aikman in a book about the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman, for his part, has never forgiven him.
19. The frat house environment
Another book, Those Guys Have All the Fun, also got ESPN in trouble when its authors purported that the network had somewhat of a frat house culture back in the 1980s. Drunken orgies and drug taking at Christmas parties were just two of the accusations leveled at the network – and the tell-all naturally caused a scandal at the time of its publication.
18. The Mike Tirico stalking allegations
What’s more, Those Guys Have All the Fun also got the network’s longest-serving anchor into hot water. Specifically, it was alleged that Mike Tirico was suspended for three months for various troubling incidents. The man best known for his duties on Monday Night Football was accused of stalking and attempting to grope several of his female colleagues in the early ’90s.
17. Stephen A. Smith’s domestic abuse comments
Stephen A. Smith was suspended from ESPN for a week following comments related to the video in which NFL star Ray Rice was seen physically abusing his wife in an elevator. The commentator appeared to insinuate that Rice’s wife may have been to blame for the incident, drawing ire from both viewers and fellow ESPN personality Michelle Beadle.
16. The Bill Creasy sexual harassment case
ESPN’s inaugural president of programming Bill Creasy even once found himself at the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Melissa DiMarco, who at 30 years old was only a fraction of his age, alleged that she was fired by Creasy after refusing to sleep over at his Greenwich mansion. The suit was eventually settled in 2004.
15. The Ashley Madison scandal
The Ashley Madison hack of 2015 got ESPN into hot water after it revealed that over 100 network employees had signed up to the adultery service. And caught up in the scandal were numerous vice presidents, executives and producers. Furthermore, one individual in particular was singled out for spending over $2,000 while searching for a “cougar.”
14. Steve Phillips’ firing
An extra-marital affair cost baseball analyst Steve Phillips his job in 2009 when it was discovered that he’d slept with a 22-year-old production assistant. The one-time New York Mets general manager was given the boot, moreover, just weeks after Marni Phillips, his wife of nearly 20 years, filed for divorce.
13. Paul Shirley’s Haiti comments
ESPN part-timer Paul Shirley showed that empathy wasn’t his strong point when he posted a lengthy blog entry about the Haiti earthquake in 2010. The network severed all ties with the former basketball professional after he appeared to claim that the country didn’t merit any overseas aid in the wake of the natural disaster.
12. Jemele Hill’s Hitler remarks
ESPN suspended Jemele Hill for several weeks in 2008 after the sports journalist compared supporting the Boston Celtics to describing Hitler as a victim. Despite issuing an apology for her remarks, though, Hill didn’t appear to have learned her lesson. In 2009, for example, she caused outrage once again by likening University of Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari to the murderous Charles Manson.
11. The Cold Pizza makeup artist case
In 2006 Cold Pizza host Jay Crawford and sportswriter Woody Paige were accused of groping and propositioning makeup artist Rita Ragone. The self-proclaimed “stylist to the stars” alleged that she was sacked after complaining to network executives about “locker room talk.” However, the case was later thrown out by a judge.
10. The Chris Berman allegations
A makeup artist was also at the center of the sexual harassment claim made against Chris Berman. Sue Baumann, who worked with the sportscaster on NFL Countdown, alleged that he’d made several inappropriate comments – both in person and via texts – over several years. ESPN, which fired Baumann in 2015, eventually settled the case out of court.
9. Jason Whitlock’s sacking
Jason Whitlock discovered the hard way that ESPN doesn’t tolerate criticism of its staff from anyone. The journalist lost his job in 2006 after referring to colleague Mike Lupica as an “insecure, mean-spirited busybody” in an interview with sports blog The Big Lead. What’s more, he also labeled Scoop Jackson as a clown whose “fake ghetto posturing is an insult to black intelligence.” Yikes.
8. The fondling allegations
In 2011 Keith Clinkscales filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against ESPN employee Joan Lynch, after she leaked a report which claimed he fondled himself on an airplane. In particular, the network executive was alleged to have committed the act while sitting beside reporter Erin Andrews. Clinkscales, however, furiously denied the accusation.
7. The peeping Tom scandal
In contrast, Neil Goldberg fully admitted to police that he watched his neighbor get dressed through a window at his Connecticut apartment. Following his peeping Tom confession, the producer faced a public indecency charge and was subsequently asked by ESPN to leave the network.
6. Harold Reynolds’ harassment case
Former MLB star-turned-analyst Harold Reynolds became another ESPN employee to lose his job over accusations of sexual harassment in 2006. However, the one-time second baseman claimed that the incident in question was “a total misunderstanding.” Furthermore, he would later announce plans to sue the network due to their handling of the situation.
5. Rush Limbaugh’s racist rant
Provocative talk show host Rush Limbaugh lived up to his reputation during his short spell as an ESPN football commentator. The ultra-conservative quit the network shortly into the NFL’s 2003 season after comments he made about media coverage of quarterback Donovan McNabb were deemed by some to be racist.
4. Scott Sassa’s sexting scandal
Alarmingly, Scott Sassa was forced to resign from his post as Hearst Entertainment & Syndication’s President in 2013 following an extortion plot. Sassa, who managed the group’s interest in various networks including ESPN, was blackmailed by an LA stripper he’d been exchanging sexual messages with. After he refused to pay up, though, the married father of two’s sexts were exposed. And the resulting scandal subsequently led to his departure from his role.
3. Curt Schilling’s transphobic tweets
Former pitcher Curt Schilling lost his baseball analyst job at ESPN after defending North Carolina’s law regarding public restrooms and transgender people. Schilling had taken to Twitter to make his feelings on the matter very clear; the network, though, didn’t approve. Indeed, ESPN stated that his comments were unacceptable for such an “inclusive company.” As a result, it promptly fired him.
2. Britt McHenry’s tirade
Fame appears to have gone to Britt McHenry’s head, judging by a 2015 video clip in which she was seen berating a towing lot attendant. The reporter later apologized for her “regrettable” tirade in which she also threatened to sue the poor unsuspecting worker. ESPN, though, still issued her with a week-long suspension.
1. Colin Cowherd’s offensive Dominican Republic comments
Controversial sportscaster Colin Cowherd went a step too far in 2015 when he implied that the wealth of Dominican Republicans in Major League Baseball was due to the sport’s simplicity. And despite apologizing for his offensive comment, Cowherd was sacked a day later by ESPN. Meanwhile, Dominican player Jose Bautista vowed on Twitter to “rip him a new one.”