ESPN Scandals We Never Saw Coming

We tune in to ESPN every day for the valuable, addictive services it provides, such as up-to-the-minute sports scores and video highlights delivered by easygoing anchors with fun catchphrases. In addition to SportsCenter's 75 or so daily editions, ESPN (which stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) also carries many actual sporting events, including college football bowl games, Monday Night Football, and plenty of obscure events that are technically sports or sports-adjacent, such as rodeos and spelling bees. 

No matter what we're watching on ESPN, we've become attached to the TV personalities that bring those sporting moments to us, so when those seemingly nice people do bad things on TV or in their personal lives, and we find out about it, it's a shock to our psyches. Here are some of the biggest and most inexplicable scandals from the worldwide leader in sports.

The worldwide leader in affairs?

It seems like every few months or so, some major website or retailer gets hacked and suffers a major security breach. Hundreds, it not thousands, of individuals' personal and private information gets exposed and is subject to exploitation. It's absolutely awful, and nobody should have to go through it. However, when Ashley Madison's member rolls were hacked and leaked in the summer of 2015, a palpable sense of "ha-ha, karma's a real kick in the pants" pervaded the culture. 

Ashley Madison is a dating website that serves the demographic of married or romantically-attached people looking to have an affair. Sports blog Deadspin looked at the leaked data and found that a whopping 101 ESPN employees — out of about 4,000 at the time — were Ashley Madison clients, including dozens of "highly influential executives, vice-presidents, and producers." In a stupid and amazing twist, 39 of those dirty 101 reportedly used their company email addresses for their Ashley Madison accounts.

Britt McHenry didn't 'tow' the line

Everybody has a bad day once in a while. We get tired, we get frustrated, and we lose our cool. That's terrible, of course, but it's a special kind of terrible for celebrities. In this age of omnipresent cameras and the internet, the whole world can witness a celebrity meltdown in minutes. That's what happened to ESPN's Britt McHenry, who appeared on shows such as NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, and SportsCenter. In April 2015, McHenry starred in another project: viral videos that showed her screaming at a tow lot employee who didn't provide the level of customer service that McHenry would have preferred. McHenry voiced her displeasure by threatening and criticizing the woman: 

"I'm in the news sweetheart, I will f***ing sue this place," she says in the video clip. 

"That's why I have a degree and you don't."

"I wouldn't work at a scumbag place like this."

"I have a brain and you don't."

"Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me, huh?"

"Lose some weight, baby girl."

McHenry later issued a mea culpa: "In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things," she said. "As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake." McHenry earned a one-week suspension.

A suit against Chris Berman could...have...gone...all...the...way

Chris Berman's alleged skeeviness isn't exactly breaking news. In 2006, a story about Berman picking up a leather-clad woman in a bar went viral after being submitted to Deadspin: "Without even breaking stride, Berman looks at the girl, points, and says, 'You're with me, leather.'" That woman supposedly left the bar with Berman of her own free will and may have welcomed his remarks.

That apparently wasn't the case with an ESPN makeup artist over the course of several years. Beginning in 2011, Sue Baumann claimed that while working on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, Berman made unsavory comments and sent her NSFW text messages. According to the Daily Mail, Baumann's husband supposedly made ESPN higher-ups aware of Berman's actions in 2015, and soon thereafter, Baumann was fired. That's when she decided to sue the network. A company investigation found that Baumann's claims "had no merit," but the network reached a settlement with her anyway, which, according to ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz, was "to save a considerable amount of time and litigation costs."

Worst. Interviews. Ever.

Jenn Sterger is a model and broadcaster, but she's best known for how professional adult men turn into libido-crazed morons in her presence. Need an example? When Sterger was a student at Florida State University in 2005, ABC cameras caught her in the stands during a football game. Sportscaster Brent Musburger quipped, "1,500 red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State." Sterger moved on from that gross moment. She modeled for Maxim and was hired to report on the New York Jets. It was during Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre's brief stint with that team that he allegedly began aggressively romancing Sterger, which is to say, allegedly sending her pictures of his junk. 

Sterger has since hosted lots of other sports TV shows, but none for ESPN, despite some sketchy meetings and auditions, like that time she was supposedly invited to an interview with the network and then invited "to a club" after the interview. Guess what kind of club it was? Yep. "I had to watch as my male coworkers got lap-dances from girls while they teased me about how I was uncomfortable," Sterger recalled on Twitter (via Fox News). The next day, male bosses allegedly chastised Sterger for going to the strip club because "it was a bad look for the company" and sent her on her way. Later, Sterger reportedly went to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. to inquire about a gig. She said that "interview" consisted of employees "asking me if I had hooked up with 'so and so' etc. or 'this person' or 'that person.'"

Ya herd what Cowherd did?

Colin Cowherd fashions himself as an outspoken sports talk personality with "hot takes" that you can't even handle, man. On a July 2015 episode of his ESPN Radio show The Herd (because his name is "Cowherd," get it?), he dissed baseball, as well as the notion that it's a "complex" sport. "It's too complex? I've never bought into that 'baseball is too complex.'" Cowherd said. Then he added, "A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic." (Wait a sec, did Cowherd just imply that baseball is simple because lots of Dominican guys play it — and that they all must be stupid? ) 

This particular hot take was not hotly received. DR-born, six-time All Star Jose Bautista tweeted to Cowherd: "Before i rip you a new one i would like for you to explain what u meant to say about baseball and dominicans, please." Major League Baseball released a statement calling Cowherd's remarks "inappropriate, offensive, and completely inconsistent with the values of our game." The League also demanded an apology to "players of Dominican origin, and Dominican people generally." 

Cowherd did issue that apology, saying that he "did not intend to offend anyone" and that his "choice of words was poor and not reflective of who I am." Nevertheless, ESPN gave him the boot.

Jemele Hill is not a Celtics fan

People really don't like Adolf Hitler, so you are courting controversy if you compare someone to one of the most evil men who ever lived. In 2008, ESPN on-air personality Jemele Hill wrote an opinion piece called "Deserving or not, I still hate the Celtics." In her column, Hill claimed it's bizarre to root for dynastic teams that have had abundant success, such as the Boston Celtics. Here's how she illustrated that point: "Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It's like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan." 

After doing some major damage control, that passage was later cut out of the piece, and Hill apologized for her "thoughtless and insensitive" remarks. That was the last thing she wrote for "Page 2" for a while, because ESPN subsequently suspended her.

Jemele Hill is not a Donald Trump fan

The tense atmosphere before, during, and after the 2016 election has left Americans more politically active and outspoken than possibly ever before, and that emotion has bled into the usually neutral world of sports. For example, during the 2017-18 NFL season, many players "took a knee" during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Another example: SportsCenter host Jemele Hill didn't mince words when weighing in on President Donald Trump on Sept. 11, 2017. Hill unleashed a tweet storm, calling Trump "a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists," as well as "the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime," among other things.

Hill soon apologized — not for what she said, but for how she said it. "My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light," she said. The White House wanted Hill fired, but ESPN let her off without punishment ... that time. About a month later, she asked her Twitter followers to boycott companies that advertise with the Dallas Cowboys because owner Jerry Jones threatened to bench players who "took a knee" during the national anthem. This time, Hill took a two-week suspension.

Rush's racist rant rushed Rush out

Conservative talk show host and political firebrand Rush Limbaugh joined ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown in 2003. That September, Limbaugh declared during a broadcast that Philadelphia Eagles star quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated. Limbaugh is certainly entitled to his opinion, although he may have been objectively wrong. At the time, McNabb had been named to three Pro Bowl squads, led the Eagles to two NFC title games, and placed second in league MVP voting. Also, Limbaugh probably shouldn't have said why he thought McNabb got as much praise as he did. 

"I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said on TV (via ESPN). "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve." ESPN defended Limbaugh in a "sorry, not sorry" statement, backing up the commentator's assertion that his comments had "no racist intent." Nevertheless, a few days later, Limbaugh reportedly quit Sunday NFL Countdown.

Did the network take it easy on sexual harassment?

Mike Tirico loves all of the sports. He has covered pre-game, post-game, and halftime broadcasts for a variety of sports for ESPN since 1991, including soccer, basketball, tennis, and golf, all with a calm, authoritative, even-handed approach. Off-screen, however, Tirico has the reputation of a full-on creep. 

According to Mike Freeman's book, ESPN: The Uncensored History (via the Daily Beast), Tirico made working at ESPN in the early '90s a nightmare for several women. At a 1992 house party, he allegedly hit on a production assistant and followed her around, which made the woman so uncomfortable she left ... only to find Tirico blocking her car. When she rolled down her window to tell him to get out of the way, he stuck his hand into and car and "attempted to put one of his hands between her thighs," the book reported. According to Freeman's book, after allegedly barraging another producer with emails announcing his desire to sleep with her, the then-engaged Tirico approached the woman outside a bar and said things we're not interested in reprinting here. He then allegedly tried to follow her home. When news of that incident made its way around ESPN, at least six women reported Tirico to company brass, who suspended the broadcaster for three months.

The 'E' in ESPN stands for 'exploiting' Erin Andrews

ESPN personality Erin Andrews was surreptitiously videotaped in a Marriott Hotel in Nashville in 2008 by a man named Michael David Barrett, who then posted naked footage of Andrews online. According to Us Weekly, he pulled off his terrible deed by requesting a room next to Andrews and carving a peephole for his camera. Barrett received a two-and-a-half year sentence, and Andrews also filed suit against him and the hotel. Not only did the sportscaster have to endure all of that, but in a legal proceeding related to the case in 2016, Andrews testified that her employer, ESPN, exploited her, too.

"My bosses at ESPN told me, 'Before you go back on air for college football, we need you to give a sit-down interview. And that was the only was I was going to be allowed back," Andrews testified, alleging the network forced her to publicly discuss the traumatic events, seemingly in an effort to milk the story. Andrews said her higher ups even recommended said interview take place on Good Morning America "because ESPN and ABC are the same," meaning both are owned by Disney. Andrews chose to be interviewed on The Oprah Winfrey Show, because she felt Oprah would handle the situation with the most sensitivity and tact. Even so, the sportscaster reportedly developed a rash and broke into tears before the interview because she was so distraught about the situation.

Curt Schilling shared crass ideas on Facebook

Curt Schilling had a stellar pitching career, highlighted with a performance in the 2004 ALCS that propelled the Boston Red Sox to its first World Series title in more than 80 years. (He threw the ball in Game 6 with a increasingly bloody sock.) After Schilling retired, he became a baseball analyst for ESPN, but unlike many other media figures, the guy freely shared his political opinions. That landed him in hot water in August 2015, when he was suspended after tweeted a meme that compared Muslim extremists to Nazis. But that didn't slow his roll.

In a radio interview in 2016, Schilling said Hillary Clinton "should be buried under a jail somewhere" because of her email scandal. A few weeks later, he posted a photo on Facebook of a large man wearing a wig, captioned: "LET HIM IN! to the restroom with your daughter or else you're a narrow-minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die." (You know, some real nuanced satire.) Schilling then wrote alongside the picture, "A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don't care what they are, who they sleep with, men's room was designed for the penis, women's not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic." ESPN thought Schilling was the pathetic one. The network released a statement that read, "Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated."

This man is not a Confederate general

This is the tale of ESPN trying really hard to prevent a scandal...and failing. In the summer of 2017, the city of Charlottesville, Va. decided to remove an old statue of Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That triggered a heated "Unite the Right" rally of far-right-wing demonstrators and counter-protestors. The tense situation turned fatal when a man drove his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one woman and injuring 19.

Charlottesville is also home to the University of Virginia, and soon after the protests, the school was set to host its first home football game of the 2017 season, broadcast on ESPN. In a mildly amusing coincidence, the network had assigned sportscaster Robert Lee to cover the game. That Robert Lee is not the same person as Gen. Robert E. Lee, seeing as how the latter died in 1870, but ESPN didn't want to take any chances, preferring to avoid any potential connection to the tragedy in Charlottesville. It offered Lee a reassignment, and according to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, Lee was "more comfortable" covering a game in Pittsburgh instead. Some thought that decision demonstrated political sensitivity gone too far, but ESPN spokesman Derek Volner said the choice "felt right to all parties" because they didn't want to prompt any jokes, memes, or people pointing out the name similarities — which is exactly what happened when news of the switch leaked.