- Mike Windle/Getty
- A Boston Globe report based on interviews with dozens of current and former ESPN employees details the difficulties facing women that work for the network.
- Allegations include inappropriate touching and predation from older male employees towards young women new to the network.
- Women also detailed the loss of opportunities that sometimes came with pregnancy and taking maternity leave.
A new report from Jenn Abelson at the Boston Globe details numerous allegations of sexism and what is described as a “locker room culture” that runs through ESPN. Abelson spoke with roughly two dozen current and former employees at the network while compiling her report.
The women told Abelson about what they described as difficulties of working for ESPN, including allegations of unwanted touching and advances from their male coworkers. According to the women, the problems were most often from those who had been with the network for some time.
Current and former employees say the network still faces problems when it comes to older men preying on younger women, particularly production assistants just out of college.
“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 ten. “The second new blood is in the water, they start circling.”
A current employee said a male coworker accompanied her to the cafeteria to protect her from an older male colleague who had made unwanted advances, including an attempted kiss. One former employee said that she faced sexual harassment from at least four men and that complaints to human resources went nowhere.
Another harrowing story told of anchor Sara Walsh. According to Abelson, Walsh was so concerned about losing her job that she went through with a scheduled broadcast while having a miscarriage.
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 released a statement shortly after the report was published.
“We work hard to maintain a respectful and inclusive culture at ESPN,” ESPN Spokeswoman Katina Arnold wrote. “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 board room, in leadership positions throughout ESPN and on air.”
Abelson’s report also describes what some of the women believe are difficulties keeping a job at ESPN, where job security has been especially volatile as of late. Some women believe they lost opportunities after getting pregnant, and worried about taking extended maternity leaves.
Anchor Jade McCarthy was a part of the layoffs that took place at ESPN in April while she was eight months pregnant, and Lindsay Czarniak decided to leave the network after she was given a pay cut after returning from maternity leave this year.
Additionally, after Walsh’s miscarriage she and her husband were eventually able to conceive, giving birth to twins in February 2017. But just days before she was scheduled to return from maternity leave, Walsh was notified that she had also been a part of the layoffs. According to the report, she had spoken with human resources before taking leave to assure that her position was safe.
Most of the women who spoke with the Boston Globe refused to name the people they say had harassed them, fearing that “it would out their own identities and subject them to retaliation.” One woman who did was Adrienne Lawrence, a former lawyer who joined ESPN on a fellowship.
According to Abelson, Lawrence accused long-time ESPN anchor John Buccigross of sending her shirtless pictures of himself and called her “dollface,” “dreamgirl,” and “longlegs” in messages. Lawrence also suggested to Abelson that false rumors were spread that she was in a relationship with the anchor whom she considered a mentor. According to the report, this was a way senior ESPNers would “mark” younger women as their own after the women joined the network.
ESPN is said to have investigated those allegations and found Lawrence’s allegations “entirely without merit.” But she told Abelson that the network then reduced her on-air shifts and later did not offer her a full-time position.
Abelson noted that many of the women she spoke with were emboldened to speak out after the network’s short-lived partnership with Barstool Sports. Jenn Sterger, a writer and actress who had tried out for an on-air position at ESPN in 2006, tweeted in October, “Since we are being honest, I will say this: I HATE how Barstool Sports treats women. But the other side is JUST as bad.” She then went on detail some of the harassment she faced during her time with the network.
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.
Sterger and Berry say they were both admonished for the strip club outing, but Sterger did not get a job at ESPN while Berry did. ESPN said it chose another woman who had more experience, though an e-mail from the network at the time also said Sterger could have improved her chances by showing “more professional behavior.”
ESPN also pointed to a piece published earlier in the day that described what they called “a monumental year for women at ESPN.”
Abelson’s report comes during a time where more and more allegations of this nature are being brought to light. Earlier in the week, multiple former NFL players that now work as on-air personalities at the NFL Network were suspended after a former stylist at the network accused them of sexual harassment and assault.
You can read Abelson’s full report here.