The letters E-S-P-N have a tremendous meaning these days. But prior to September 7, 1979, there was no 24/7 sports outlet. Born in Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN has grown from infancy to be broadcast in over an astounding 95,000,000 homes. ESPN has a ton of family of channels and now has the backing of the giant Disney behind them. In fact, ESPN is now a brand, not simply a sports cable television station. They are THE cable sports television station. Make no mistake about it, if it is sports-related, people think ESPN. In fact, if you see a classic sports moment happen live, you can bet that it will be on ESPN’s Sportscenter as a “Top 10” play. ESPN has become part of the cultural fabric, and any sporting event in the world is bound to be seen or talked about in the ESPN family of channels.
Although ESPN began in Bristol, it has since expanded with offices across the United States in major cities on both East and West Coasts: Miami, New York City, Seattle, Charlotte, and Los Angeles. Although ESPN is a sports cable giant, it has encountered numerous speed bumps and criticisms along the way, one of which is the “biased coverage” label. Others get upset with some of their more news-based critical views on a wide variety of subject matters. And then there was the bombshell of a book that exposed a tremendous amount of inside info about the network.
These are 15 Explosive Scandals That Rocked the Core of ESPN.
15. Chris Berman Accused
To understand who Chris Berman is, think of Clint Eastwood in the movie industry. Chris Berman is an icon over at ESPN, a sportscaster and sports anchor who has literally been one of the most influential figures on the station for decades. Berman has been with the station since 1979 and is now finally hanging them up of sorts. He will no longer be part of the famed Sunday NFL Countdown and Primetime shows. But it was a former makeup artist named Sue Baumann who truly called the ESPN “king” out. Baumann admitted to having an extra-marital affair. She hooked up with Berman’s then co-host Chris Carter. Berman liked the eye-candy as well and started to send Baumann suggestive text messages and make comments around her that made her uncomfortable. The sexual harassment suit was settled in 2015. Berman’s run at ESPN just coincidentally ended as well.
14. I Touch Myself
Okay, so this may have been a hit song (“I Touch Myself”) at one point, but ESPN producer Neil Goldberg went to another level when he was caught doing something very naughty. It was 2010 when Goldberg got arrested for a highly inappropriate activity. See, Goldberg thought his neighbor was hot. In fact, he was staring at her through her window and was touching himself while she was getting dressed. Apparently, Goldberg was standing on a stool to get a good look inside her home and when he “took care” of himself. The mortified woman saw this creeper and called the cops. Goldberg was tagged for disorderly conduct, public indecency, trespassing, and breach of peace. He also sadly didn’t get to finish. Not a happy ending for him, for sure.
13. A Peeping Michael David Barrett
The public wouldn’t know Michael David Barrett were if not for a 2009 video in which Barrett illegally made multiple videos of ESPN on-air personality Erin Andrews. Andrews, one of the most beautiful women in all of sportscasting, was inside her hotel room. She was naked as the video rolled with her without clothes on. But it wasn’t just one hotel. Andrews was filmed secretly at two different hotel stays over a 12-month period. The released videos were a bombshell and personally exposed Andrews. Andrews was rightfully furious and filed a $75-million lawsuit against Barrett, Marriott International, and Radisson Hotels. Andrews received a jury award of $55 million for her trouble.
12. Tirico’s Touch
Mike Tirico is one of the most well-known and respected sportscasters on ESPN. In fact, he rose all the way to being the voice of ESPN’s signature event, Monday Night Football. But Mike Tirico has had somewhat of a checkered past within the walls of ESPN. In the male-dominated frat community, it should come as no surprise that young attractive women were being harassed. What’s surprising is that ESPN is a big brand, not the local out-of-control frat house. Mike Tirico has been with ESPN for 25 years, and back in the 1990s, he was accused of sticking his hand between the thighs of a production assistant. (Pretty sure that’s illegal, Mike). Despite being repeatedly turned down, Tirico tried and tried again with her. (We’re guessing the sexual harassment courses weren’t up-to-date at this point). Another incident had Tirico sending a series of inappropriate emails to another production assistant, who also happened to be friends with Tirico’s fiancee. Tirico’s sexual advances were turned down, and we give him a big thumbs down for his efforts.
11. Those Guys Have All the Fun
In 2011, an explosive book, Those Guys Have All the Fun, was released chronicling the exploits of the fraternity-like atmosphere that occurred during the early years of ESPN. The author, James Miller, delved deep into the “behind the scenes” activities, a lot of which pointed to juvenile behaviors. Numerous big name broadcasters were surprisingly named in the book. When the cameras were off, it was apparent that quite a bit was going on behind the scenes, and James Miller pulled no punches in his explosive outing of the frat house atmosphere. Even those who denied some of the information revealed in the book have been attached to more scandals. This book opened up the flood gates and set the stage for all that happened and was a huge black eye at the time to the ESPN brand. In addition, as you will see in other spots on this list, infidelity seemed like a regular and acceptable occurrence with multiple high-ranking newscasters having their way with willing and much younger production assistants.
10. Ashley Madison
We all know about Ashley Madison at this point. But if you don’t, I’ll quickly allow you to catch up. This was a hook-up website that allowed people (married or single) to search for and sext others in hopes of finding and forging affairs. In 2015, the site was blown apart and hacked to the point where names of people were exposed. The ESPN family was not immune to the implosion. Numerous individuals who worked at the company were revealed to have been active on the website. To give an idea of how embarrassing it was at ESPN, a whopping 101 ESPN employees, executives, producers, and even vice-presidents showed up on the list of users. Ouch.
9. The Limbaugh Effect
Explosive conservative talk and radio show host Rush Limbaugh is no stranger to political firestorms. The outspoken news commentator ended up incredibly, landing a spot on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. We’re pretty sure the brainchild of this idea got canned. Limbaugh came on the show and called Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb overrated. Naturally, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But in classic Rush Limbaugh fashion, he went after McNabb’s race by stating he was only popular because of the color of his skin. The Black quarterback, Limbaugh stated, was popular because the media wanted him to succeed. Limbaugh was quickly pulled off the air, and the Limbaugh experiment ended.
8. Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling was a gutsy and successful pitching ace during his time in the majors. He was an absolute stud at shutting down opponents. Curt Schilling was a baseball hero, a man who took the mound as he bled through a sock, never for a moment considering to be taken out. He is a 3x World Series champion and has always been a beast of a pitcher, a strikeout machine. However, Schilling has some personal opinions, particularly on politics, that infringe upon his otherwise envious status as a baseball hero. While working as an ESPN baseball broadcaster, Schilling expressed his views on Muslims. This got him suspended and warned. Then he thought it funny to make light of the transgender discussions, and that finally got him fired. ESPN could not have a loose cannon on Twitter discussing major political issues in a twisted manner (although for the US Presidency, it seems completely acceptable). Schilling’s political expressions put ESPN in hot water and forced their hand with regard to his employment.
7. Harold Reynolds Gets Touchy-Feely
Harold Reynolds was a solid MLB player. He did a tremendous job as a long-time second baseman. Reynolds was great with his hands, and that didn’t stop on the baseball field. He landed a job as a big part of ESPN’s MLB broadcast. He was one of the hosts of Baseball Tonight. Reynolds was dynamite on television with a million dollar smile and an extremely deep knowledge of the sport he loved. But in 2006, Reynolds was shockingly fired by ESPN. News started to come out that Reynolds was a habitual harasser, getting too frisky with numerous female staffers. Reynolds sued for wrongful termination, but it only highlighted the facts of the case in which multiple women had “concerns” over his sexual behavior (which if Harold didn’t know is the definition of sexual harassment). His actions were labeled as “Repeat Sexual Misconduct.” Yeah, so he’s that kind of guy.
6. The Steve Phillips Affair
Steve Phillips was a solid General Manager of the New York Mets prior to landing a position with ESPN as an analyst. Phillips had extremely insightful thoughts on the game of baseball and the player movements involved in the sport. He was a high-quality analyst who had a tremendous amount of face-time on television. But what happened next was shocking to many. Phillips, a married family man, fell into the common cliché by engaging in an affair with a beautiful young production assistant named Brooke Hundley. It was the summer of 2009 when Hundley confided to another female employee that she was uncomfortable with a relationship with a married man. Hundley was told by her colleague that it was normal day-to-day stuff at the ESPN offices to sleep with the talent. The affair lasted for months until Phillips called it off. But the 22-year-old Hundley didn’t want it to be over and called Phillips’s wife. Phillips’s wife then filed for divorce in October of 2009.
5. RG3 Gets Bashed
In 2012, Robert Griffin III (aka RG3) was on fire. He was the next wave of talented quarterbacks who could both run and pass. He was a rookie sensation that was about to take the league by storm. Griffin was asked about being a Black quarterback, and he rightfully responded that he wanted to be known for his playing ability, not for his race. ESPN’s Rob Parker (a Black analyst with the network) went on the show First Take, a volatile show that often takes highly opinionated views on a variety of subjects. Parker called Griffin a “cornball brother” and related that he is “not one of us.” Parker didn’t perceive Griffin as being Black enough. He bashed Griffin and stated, “He’s kind of Black, but he’s not really the guy you’d really want to hang out with because he’s off to do something else.” Parker initially got a 30-day suspension and then got terminated shortly after.
Hey, a lot of people engage in sexting. It’s not the most unusual of behaviors. Now, sometimes, a company doesn’t need to take a direct hit to get dragged into the mud. This was the case with this sexting incident. The man’s name was Scott Sassa, President of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. One of Sassa’s key cable television network interests was ESPN. And in 2013, Sassa was forced to step down. The embarrassment was due to a series of sexting messages Sassa was sending to an exotic dancer. These texts were made public when the dancer and her boyfriend attempted to blackmail him. Sassa and the dancer were exchanging texts with the mention of “toys” and MDMA. He clearly got set-up and fell for the rouse.
3. Whitlock Lashes Out
Jason Whitlock was a journalist for ESPN.com’s Page 2. He was a regular on numerous ESPN programs. He appeared on shows the likes of “Sports Reporters” and “Outside the Lines.” Jason Whitlock had years of built up frustration and unloaded some of them regarding his peers, in effect airing a ton of dirty laundry. He referred to Mike Lupica as “an insecure, mean-spirited busybody.” He continued with colleague Scoop Jackson, bashing him by describing how “much of his writing is childish, anti-white and a caricature of a negative black stereotype.” Whitlock was temporarily pushed out the door and then allowed back in for 2013. Whitlock now works on Fox Sports with another former ESPN employee, Colin Cowherd.
2. Stephen A. Sounds Off
It doesn’t take a lot to get Stephen A. Smith going. In fact, the loud and brash co-host of the highly successful show First Take has long since been known for his outlandish opinions and incredibly high voice tones. He has made a career out of screaming and taking some of his points of views to extremes. But none got him in more hot water than when Smith was called out for his opinions on the Ray Rice incident. Basically, video captured Ray Rice and his fiancee in a fight while both drunk. She appeared to take a swing or two at him, and he reached back and knocked her out cold. What was visually even more dramatic was the end result of the incident in which Rice dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator. Stephen A. Smith insinuated that Rice’s fiancee should take quite a bit more blame than the media was giving to her. Obviously, it does take two to tango; however, Smith’s words were considered inflammatory, Smith seemingly absolving Rice of some of the blame, which didn’t sit well with the public. Nevertheless, ESPN and Smith weathered the firestorm of his words, and he remained on the job. It was close, but he got past the media storm.
1. Jay Mariotti and His Extremes
The loudmouth Jay Mariotti made quite an impact on the world in the early 2000s. His brash style of communication was well-known in the industry as being somewhat “sensational” and “extreme.” His style got him attention, and with that attention, he gained notoriety. But many in the world of sports and entertainment journalism viewed Mariotti quite differently. They saw him as an extremist, a loose cannon hell-bent on making more waves than getting stories correct. First, there was Roger Ebert, a famous film critic, calling Mariotti out for having a “penchant for writing sensationalistic columns to attract readers.” Mariotti was the convergence of sports and entertainment, considering his style and celebrity more important than truth. In 2004, Chicago White Sox’s famous broadcaster, Ken Harrelson, even called Mariotti “the biggest sports fraud.” After some back and forth through the media, Mariotti got into a physical fight with the much older Harrelson and found himself on the wrong end of the brawl. Mariotti suffered a broken nose and a lot of embarrassment. Later, in 2010, in Los Angeles, Mariotti was once again arrested. This time, he was charged with 7 misdemeanors for physically attacking his girlfriend.