ESPN has long been known as a go-to source for anything sports-related, whether it be news or commentary. The brand even uses its tagline to identify itself as “the worldwide leader in sports.”
But one thing that the company does not, and should not, have a trophy for is its treatment of women in the workplace.
The company, headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut, has been shrouded in scandal since August, when disgruntled employee Adrienne Lawrence filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Earlier this month, Lawrence requested that her complaint be released so she could sue ESPN in a federal court instead of leaving the decision in the state agency’s hands.
According to the Boston Globe, the complaint in question detailed a corporate environment in which men disguise unwanted sexual and romantic advances as mentorship or networking opportunities. Male employees were also said to have spread rumors about sexual relationships with female employees in order to “mark” them as a sort of personal belonging.
In the complaint, Lawrence accused long time SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross of sending her unsolicited shirtless photos of himself. He referred to her using pet names like “dollface” and descriptors like “#dreamgirl” and “#longlegs.” Finally, rumors of a sexual relationship between Lawrence and Buccigross began to circulate throughout the office, and Lawrence decided to complain about it to the company.
A supervisor told Lawrence to just drop the matter, and the company subsequently retaliated against her by reducing her airtime and denying her a permanent position. Since the formal complaint, however, ESPN claims to have done a “thorough investigation” of the situation, but has found Lawrence’s claims of retaliation to be “entirely without merit” because the changes were already announced and expected.
Lawrence isn’t alone, though. Nearly two dozen current and former ESPN women employees have come forward since August to tell stories of sexual propositions, back rubs, and rating systems by men in the office. Some admitted to feeling like they had to hide their pregnancies for fear of losing the coveted position of being a woman who works at ESPN. Former employees even described a time where a woman anchored while having a miscarriage just to show her dedication to the company.
“ESPN has failed to address its deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women,” Lawrence said.
Writer and actress Jenn Sterger shed more light on ESPN’s treatment of women when she explained how she felt sexually harassed when she interviewed for an on-air position with the sports conglomerate back in 2006. While doing a months-long audition, an executive showed her a copy of Playboy. Matthew Berry, who was auditioning for a spot on ESPN’s The Fantasy Show, brought her to a strip club before a dinner with ESPN employees and other interviewees.
“Sexual harassment for women in sports journalism is a huge problem,” Sterger said. “But it’s one we have been taught from day one comes with the territory.”
Sexual harassment shouldn’t have to come with the job, especially at ESPN, which, according to the Globe “gives more opportunities to women than many other outlets” just because of how huge it is. Hopefully Lawrence’s complaint will help the company realize its faults and work towards bettering its relationship with women.
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