The wave of sexual harassment claims that took Hollywood by storm before engulfing politics and news media and inspired the #metoo movement initially bypassed sports.
That is no longer the case. A lawsuit filed against NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon followed by a series of allegations against on-air talent and executives at NFL Network has brought the world of sports into full focus.
ESPN is now in the crosshairs, per a Boston Globe report that describes a culture of misogyny where women are subject to unwanted sexual advances and territorialism while facing penalties for being pregnant.
“SportsCenter” anchor John Buccigross and fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry are named in the report.
The report focuses on former on-air talent Adrienne Lawrence, who filed a complaint with Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against the Bristol-based network.
“ESPN has failed to address its deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women,” Lawrence stated in the complaint.
Lawrence named Buccigross, a long-time popular “SportsCenter” anchor, specifically in her complaint.
She accuses Buccigross, whom she considered a mentor, of calling her “dollface,” “#dreamgirl,” and “#longlegs” in unsolicited text messages that included shirtless photos of himself, the report details.
“You need to wear clothes, sir,” Lawrence reportedly responded.
Buccigross admitted to sending the photos in a statement to the Globe, but denied Lawrence’s claims that he started rumors that the two were in a relationship.
“I considered Adrienne to be a friend,” Buccigross said. “I’m sorry if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn’t my intent.”
Lawrence claims that her on-air shifts were reduced, and she was denied a permanent position after she complained about Buccigross.
ESPN responded to the Globe that it investigated Lawrence’s complaints and found that they were “entirely without merit.”
The complaints against Berry involve Jenn Sterger, who is probably best known for being the victim of the Brett Favre sexting scandal while working as a New York Jets sideline reporter. Sterger railed against the recent short-lived partnership between ESPN and Barstool Sports, which has a reputation for promoting a misogynistic culture.
The Barstool Sports debacle surfaced complaints from 2006, in which Sterger said she sought out work with ESPN. Sterger, who had posed for “Playboy” magazine, said that her audition involved an executive showing her a copy of her “Playboy” shoot before an unexpected outing to a strip club.
Berry, who was also auditioning for ESPN at the time, went on the strip club outing where he was photographed pointing at Sterger’s breasts.
The trip to the strip club “was not a smart decision, and I regret going,” Berry told the Globe. He also called the photo embarrassing.
Lawrence and Sterger aren’t the only women to complain about the culture at ESPN in the report. Some spoke to the Globe off the record for fear of short-circuiting their careers.
“It’s like cutting your arm in an ocean full of sharks,” an anonymous employee told the Globe. “The second new blood is in the water, they start circling.”
The woman described experiencing unwanted physical contact and hearing men rate women on a scale of one to 10.
“SportsCenter” anchor Sara Walsh, who had previously described having a miscarriage on-air, declined to speak with the Globe because she still is under contract despite being laid off. But colleagues told the Globe that Walsh took to the air the day of her miscarriage for fear of losing work. Walsh reportedly complained about her treatment by executives following her miscarriage, and her role was reduced from that point on until she was laid off.
This is not the first time ESPN has been under fire for workplace culture. The 2011 tell-all book “Those Guys Have All the Fun” detailed an environment likened to a frat house.
“The company would have Christmas parties up at some horrible place in Bristol,” then general counsel Andy Brilliant said in the book. “A couple of them were drunken orgies. … It became like a big frat party. There were a lot of drugs being done in the bathroom. There was quite a bit of screwing going on afterward, a lot of it extramarital. But everybody went back to business the next workday.”
ESPN president John Skipper denied the descriptions from the excerpt in a 2011 response.
“I can tell you categorically, we do not have a frat-boy culture,” Skipper said. “We do not condone that kind of activity.”
ESPN has also responded to the Globe’s report, claiming it promotes a culture of inclusivity.
“We work hard to maintain a respectful and inclusive culture at ESPN,” ESPN spokeswoman Katina Arnold said. “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 boardroom, in leadership positions throughout ESPN, and on air.”