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New ESPN sexual harassment accusations name anchor John Buccigross and analyst Matthew Berry

Alex Reimer
December 14, 2017 - 7:39 pm

ESPN has an infamous history with sexual harassment. The company’s culture used to resemble a frat house, with tales of debauchery chronicled in two books, “ESPN: The Uncensored History,” and “Those Guys Have All the Fun.” Numerous high-profile male employees, ranging from Mike Tirico to Steve Phillips, have been caught up in sexual misconduct scandals through the network's nearly 40-year existence.

Despite that sordid past, ESPN has largely been untouched by the #MeToo movement. But that looks like it's about to change. 

The Boston Globe published an expose Thursday on the WorldWide Leader’s alleged mistreatment of several female anchors over the last decade. One of the women, Adrienne Lawrence, worked at the network in 2015 as part of a fellowship to increase racial diversity. She filed a complaint this summer with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, detailing her alleged experience with sexual harassment at ESPN. She now wants to sue in federal court.

Lawrence’s accusations center around star anchor John Buccigross. In the lawsuit, Lawrence says Buccigross sent her unsolicited flirtatious text messages, calling her “dollface,” “#dreamgirl,” and “#longlegs.” In some of them, she says Buccigross was shirtless, which prompted her to reply, “You need to wear clothes, sir.”

The Globe reviewed communication between the two. ESPN has posted screenshots of the text exchanges in question, which show Buccigross and Lawrence conversing over the span of roughly two months. 

Perhaps due to the texts, Lawrence says rumors began to spread that she was in a relationship with Buccigross. Lawrence says ESPN retaliated once she brought the issue to management, cutting her on-air shifts.

In a statement to the Globe, Buccigross admits to communicating with Lawrence and sending the shirtless picture. “I considered Adrienne to be a friend,” he says. “I’m sorry if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn’t my intent.”

ESPN says it investigated Lawrence’s claims and found them to be without merit. “We conducted a thorough investigation and found these claims to be entirely without merit," said Katina Arnold, an ESPN spokeswoman. "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. The company will vigorously defend its position and we are confident we will prevail in court.” 

Jets reporter Jenn Sterger, who accused an unnamed ESPN employee of sexual harassment in October, reveals the offender’s name in the piece as well. Sterger says fantasy football guru Matthew Berry, one of the most influential voices in fantasy sports, took her to a strip club in Charlotte when she was testing for a show in 2007. About two years later, she says she visited ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, where Berry proceeded to make sexual remarks around her. 

Berry told the Globe he regrets taking Sterger to the strip club.

Sterger first spoke up when ESPN ended its partnership with Barstool Sports after one episode of “Barstool Van Talk,” citing concerns over the company’s misogynistic content. At the time, Sterger said she wanted to expose ESPN’s hypocrisy

Recent history indicates more female accusers may now feel prompted to speak out about their experiences at ESPN. Earlier this week, NFL Network suspended three analysts for sexual harassment. Two of the other analysts named in that suit, Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, now work at ESPN. They’ve both been suspended as well.

With three massive rounds of layoffs over the last two years, there’s been significant talent turnover at ESPN. Some female employees, including ex-“SportsCenter” anchors Sara Walsh and Jade McCarthy, say they were let go immediately before or after they took maternity leave. In 2014, Walsh says she hosted a show while bleeding from a miscarriage, because she was afraid of losing her position.

Lindsay Czarniak, who formerly hosted the 6:00 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter,” says she left the company after being offered a different job with a hefty pay cut when she returned from leave.

ESPN has promoted several women to high-profile roles in recent years: Jess Mendoza is the first ever national female baseball analyst, Samantha Ponder hosts “Sunday NFL Countdown” and Jemele Hill now co-hosts the 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter.” But while some stars are elevated, these complaints show how life for rank-and-file female employees can be arduous. 

In TV, equality doesn’t appear to trickle down. 

This post has been updated with a complete ESPN statement and hyperlink to the text messages in question.

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