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Volume 24 No. 217
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Former Female ESPN Employee Describes "Toxic Environment;" Net Defends Anchor

ESPN is "under scrutiny for a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint filed this summer with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities," and some current and former employees "say the problems for women run deep," according to a front-page piece by Jenn Abelson of the BOSTON GLOBE. ESPN has "tried to jettison its frat-boy reputation with new training and policies, including requiring employees to disclose personal relationships with each other to the company." However, former on-air talent Adrienne Lawrence, who filed the complaint, said, "ESPN has failed to address its deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women." Lawrence joined ESPN in '15 as part of a "fellowship designed to increase racial diversity at the sports network," but was not retained after it concluded. Lawrence in the complaint "describes a toxic environment" at ESPN HQ where men make "unwanted sexual and romantic advances under the guise of networking or mentoring, and 'mark' women as their own by spreading false rumors about sexual relationships with female employees." She also accused "SportsCenter" host John Buccigross of "sending unsolicited shirtless photographs of himself and calling her 'dollface,' '#dreamgirl,' and '#longlegs' in messages" from '16. Buccigross in a statement said, "I considered Adrienne to be a friend. I'm sorry if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn't my intent." ESPN VP/Corporate Communications Katina Arnold said, "We work hard to maintain a respectful and inclusive culture at ESPN. 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" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/15). Another statement from Arnold reads, "We conducted a thorough investigation and found these claims to be entirely without merit. Lawrence was hired into a two-year talent development program and was told that her contract would not be renewed at the conclusion of the training program. At that same time, ESPN also told 100 other talent with substantially more experience, that their contracts would not be renewed" (ESPN).

PROVIDING MORE CONTEXT: THE BIG LEAD's Ryan Glasspiegel noted ESPN on Thursday "published these texts between Buccigross and Lawrence ... with a statement that 'it’s clear that they had a consensual, personal friendship that spanned months.'” Some texts, "including the shirtless photo, are omitted" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 12/14). Uproxx' Andy Isaac tweeted, "These definitely don't look like 'unsolicited' texts." Sports media consultant Jason Barrett: "ESPN is fighting back. If Lawrence has other evidence it’ll be needed." Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: "ESPN did not publish the shirtless picture Buccigross sent Lawrence, which seems to be the biggest point of contention" (TWITTER.com, 12/15).