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Volume 26 No. 139
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ESPN's Suspension Policy Scrutinized In Wake Of Last Week's Britt McHenry Incident

ESPN "has a long and storied history of sending its reporters, hosts and producers to the sidelines after embarrassing episodes that grabbed headlines," as seen in last week's suspension of reporter Britt McHenry, which "raises an obvious question: Why does this happen so often at ESPN?" according to Paul Farhi of the WASHINGTON POST. The net’s "dishonor roll" is long, "stretching to more than two dozen names." Author James Andrew Miller, who wrote, "These Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN," said there is an "amplified environment” at ESPN, much like that around highly competitive athletes. Miller added, "People who are on the air get riled up, and they earn their money by being provocative and saying provocative things and getting into debates." ESPN suggests that its suspension rate "isn’t especially high, at least relative to the number of people it employs to sling opinions on TV, radio, online and in print." Further, when it does take action, ESPN claims that its high profile "draws disproportionate attention." Farhi wrote one "curious aspect of ESPN’s suspensions" is that the duration is "all over the field." Some "lasted two days; others were for a week." Still, others "went multiple weeks, despite the infraction being similar to another that earned a lesser penalty." ESPN VP/PR Josh Krulewitz: "If and when a mistake is made, our goal in each individual situation is to determine a fair and appropriate reaction, even if that may result in additional public attention." But Miller said, "When you go after one of ESPN’s business partners (such as the NFL), the stakes obviously get higher. And when you go after a fellow employee, that’s another third rail. They don’t want civil wars breaking out at the office" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/18).

BRITTLE SITUATION: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote McHenry's diatribe last week "will stay with her for as long as she works in sports broadcasting." There "is no turning back on that digital trail." Doing good work "now becomes her only way out of the abyss, and it starts with the NFL draft." No ESPN employee "has ever needed to do good reporting more than McHenry does now." Her problem "is that she is now professionally defined for the words she uttered" on a security tape (SI.com, 4/19). In N.Y., Andrea Peyser asks, "How can a TV sports yakker be taken seriously after her vile character has been revealed?" (N.Y. POST, 4/20). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes he does not "see how McHenry gets past this." The tape seemed to reveal "a deep-seeded attitude to those she deems less important than her." Jones: "And that would be everybody who is not beautiful and is not on television. Doesn't that include pretty much everyone who watches ESPN?" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/20). Also, in N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote it was "stunning to watch and listen to a young woman, after being given fair warning, do such career damage -- perhaps irreparable -- to herself" (N.Y. POST, 4/19).

TOEING THE LINE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote if Chris Berman, Mike Tirico, Mike Breen "or any other male ESPN voice was caught on video telling a hard working woman" what McHenry told the woman "and adding other graphic put-downs, they would have received a lot more than one week on the bench." It "would be no surprise if they would’ve been flat-out fired." In this "particular case, McHenry had gender on her side." The problem McHenry has now "is the perception not only viewers, but the people she covers will have of her once she returns to the air and moving forward." The video "confirmed her entitled brat status" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/19). In Chicago, Rex Huppke wrote McHenry's one-week suspension is "not good enough." Nobody can "watch that video and buy that McHenry is sorry about a thing, aside from being caught." She "should have been fired immediately" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/18). In DC, Chris Cillizza highlighted McHenry in his "Worst Week in Washington" column. Cillizza: "The idea of McHenry as a 'Mean Girl' -- attractive, entitled, arrogant and awful -- fits so perfectly that it’s amazing she wasn’t self-aware enough not to say some of what she said, even if she really believed it. ... Britt McHenry, for forgetting that high school only lasts four years and then you’re supposed to grow up, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/18).