Behind-The-Scene Scandals That Took Place At ESPN

ESPN is and always has been the leader in the sports world… everything from the stats to the scandals. But did you know that ESPN is not just reporting on scandals, they have also created their own scandals? From remarks which immediately cost reporters their jobs to inner office harassment and hookups; here’s a list of scandals that will surprise you.

Steve Phillips

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Henry S. Dziekan III/WireImage
Henry S. Dziekan III/WireImage

Steve Phillips was a central figure on ESPN and was a baseball analyst.

But once it was revealed that he was having an affair with another employee, it made national headlines. He was let go from his position.

Paul Shirley

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Shirley is a former basketball player that joined ESPN as a freelance contributor. He also wrote for other media sources, and one of his articles unrelated to sports got him fired from ESPN.

The article was about the earthquakes in Haiti and how he wouldn’t be donating to the cause. He publicly said the country should work to help itself.

Cold Pizza

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Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

“Cold Pizza” was a show that was the pre-cursor to “First Take” on ESPN. Years ago, a makeup artist came forward and said she was sexually harassed by both hosts (Woody Paige and Jay Crawford) of the show.

This was obviously a massive scandal and ESPN decided to settle with her out of court.

Chris Berman

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Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Berman is easily one of the most recognizable and famous figures at ESPN, but even he isn’t immune to the presence of scandals.

A former makeup artist claimed that she was harassed by Berman on the set and via text message. ESPN settled the claim out of court.

Neil Goldberg

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JP PULLOS/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
JP PULLOS/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Being a peeping tom is one of the single creepiest things you can do, but ESPN producer Neil Goldberg went that route anyway. He was caught one night at his apartment complex peeping into his neighbor’s window while she changed.

He was arrested for this and was immediately fired for his actions.

Jay Mariotti

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Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for ESPN the Magazine
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for ESPN the Magazine

Arguments happen in the media, but very rarely do they come to blows. But after Jay Mariotti and Ken Harrelson traded jabs on air, things eventually came to a climax when they actually squared up and fought.

This is obviously something that ESPN didn’t want going public.

Adnan Virk Fired After Leaking Confidential Info

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Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Baseball Tonight” host Adnan Virk was fired by ESPN in February 2019, after the company determined that he had leaked confidential information to the media. He was escorted from the premises after his termination.

Virk allegedly leaked private details to the sports website Awful Announcing, saying that ESPN was not bringing back “Baseball Tonight” as a daily program. He also discussed the fact that ESPN didn’t have as many baseball shows as it had been contracted with MLB to run, and that MLB was letting the station get away with it. After his termination, Virk’s representatives said he planned to sue ESPN.

Stephen A Smith

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Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Like his former partner on “First Take,” Stephen A Smith is famous for making controversial statements over his career that have frustrated the public, athletes, and even other TV personalities.

He will likely never be fired for these words as it is what has made him famous, but that doesn’t mean ESPN wouldn’t like him to calm down sometimes.

Harold Reynolds

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Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

While many of the firings on this list are justified, this one might not be. Reynolds was fired for hugging a co-worker and it was said to be harassment. While probably not a good idea, it wasn’t nearly as bad as other things on this list.

Reynolds sued ESPN for wrongful termination and was awarded a seven-figure settlement.

Mike Tirico

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Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mike Tirico is one of the longest-tenured personalities on ESPN and is noted as a solid employee. However, females at ESPN are not a fan of Tirico. He has numerous instances of being allegedly creepy towards female co-workers and other odd behavior.

However, he was not fired for any of these claims as executives have said he has grown up over the years.

Curt Schilling

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G Fiume/Getty Images
G Fiume/Getty Images

Schilling had an amazing career as a baseball pitcher but had significantly less success as a commentator and analyst. He was let go from ESPN after releasing an offensive tweet regarding transgender bathrooms.

His tweet was also accompanied by a mean meme. People in a position of power shouldn’t use their fame as an outlet to spew their political beliefs, which is why ESPN let him go.

Editing Out History?

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Speaking of Curt Schilling, he has recently slammed ESPN saying that his bad relationship with the network caused them to edit him out of their documentary on the Red Sox called Four Day In October. Schilling took to Twitter saying, “Wow, full one year complete fabrication to defame greatest QB, now omitting about 4 hours of a game I think I played in. Hmm.”

The documentary focused on the 2004 American League Championship Series, where the Red Sox had a major comeback against the New York Yankees. In Game 6 of the series, Schilling was the starting pitcher in a game that they won. He even played with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle. Because of his injury, the game is often referred to as the “Bloody Sock Game”.

ESPN Picks Favorites

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Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

ESPN has often been said to favor certain sports teams and players over others. The program Baseball Tonight has often been said to favor the Boston Red Sox and the New York teams. Pitcher Heath Bell, famously criticized the network saying, “I truly believe ESPN only cares about promoting the Red Sox and Yankees—and nobody else.

That’s why I like the MLB Network, because they promote everybody. I’m really turned off by ESPN and Baseball Tonight. When Jake Peavy threw 8⅓ innings on Saturday, they showed one pitch in the third inning and that was it. It’s all about the Red Sox and Yankees.”

Michelle Beadle

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Leon Bennett/WireImage
Leon Bennett/WireImage

Michelle Beadle is an ESPN reporter and host. Back in 2011, it was alleged that she said some very inappropriate things to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after the ESPY awards at a party. Co-workers also accused her of being drunk and using substances while partying. Beadle denied that she said anything inappropriate to Rodgers.

She declared, “That was one of the first getaways after I had broken up with Matthew [Barnaby, an ESPN hockey analyst], so I was newly single and just hanging with my girls. But I’ve never been the type to be sloppy drunk in public. I’m 35! I know how to drink.” At the time, others contended that Beadle was very fondly looked at by her superiors and never disciplined. It seems as though nothing came of it, however, as Beadle still as her job today!

Bill Simmons Ousted

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Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

In 2015, Bill Simmons, “The Sports Guy” who had been recruited for his ESPN position, was very publicly let go. Simmons appeared on Dan Patrick’s radio show and commented on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He had previously gone on a tirade against the commissioner and did so again.

Simmons says it was a joke but it still landed him in hot water with ESPN. Ultimately, Simmons found himself waking up to the news in The New York Times that his contract would not be renewed. Ouch! What a way to find out you lost your job!

ESPN Drove Up Prices

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Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN
Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN

ESPN allegedly made multiple deals when newer sports channels like NBCSN and Fox Sports 1 were emerging in order to block them from acquiring rights to show various events live. Some of these events include the bowl games of the College Football Playoff, Major League Baseball games, and NBA games. ESPN was said to have paid about $7.3 billion for the broadcasting rights to all seven bowl games of the College Football Playoff and $700 million for a Major League Baseball deal.

Various financial analysts believe all of the money ESPN is spending could undo The Walt Disney Company who are ESPN’s owners. As of 2015, ESPN ended up laying off about 300 employees and cited rights costs.

LeBron Controversy

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Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

In 2010, LeBron James made his very controversial decision to leave Cleveland, his hometown, and join the Miami Heat. He made the announcement through a one-hour ESPN special. ESPN apparently made the deal in exchange for exclusive rights to the announcement, to give advertising and airtime to LeBron.

LeBron James on marketing company was also able to arrange an interview with their own journalist named Jim Gray and was in no way affiliated with ESPN. ESPN was widely criticized for this for grossly violating journalistic standards of ethics.

Trolling LeBron = Trouble

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Jason Koerner/Getty Images
Jason Koerner/Getty Images

After LeBron’s controversial decision to leave, many in his hometown were devastated and angry about his decision. Apparently one of these people included ESPN radio host and columnist Dan Le Batard. Dan funded some billboards in Cleveland that said, “You’re welcome LeBron/ Love, Miami”.

Dan was suspended from working at ESPN for two days saying, “His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN’s standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance.”

Is ESPN Discriminatory?

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Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

During the coverage of 2006 WNBA Finals, ESPN was widely criticized by fans and even coaches by the way the WNBA was presented. The head coach of the Detroit Shock team, Bill Laimbeer, who also happens to be a former ESPN NBA analyst, was extremely perturbed by this and was quoted by the Detroit Free Press.

Bill said, “I just hear from our family and friends back home that, ‘Boy, ESPN is killing you guys,’ … ‘And (Nancy) Lieberman and Doris Burke are just trashing you left and right.’ Not only me, but also some of our players on our ballclub. … We’re telling ESPN today to basically stick it.”

Sean Salisbury

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Peter Larsen/WireImage
Peter Larsen/WireImage

In 2006, it was reported that ESPN NFL analyst Sean Salisbury had been suspended. At the time the reasons were undisclosed. Later CBS Sports reported that he had been suspended for taking inappropriate cell phone pictures of himself and showing it to “numerous, uncomfortable women”. Salisbury denied that this happened yet it was still widely reported around various sites on the internet, including Gawker and Deadspin.

Later Deadspin also reported that Salisbury was fired from a radio station job in Dallas, allegedly for doing something similar. After this, Salisbury must have been pushed to the edge because he sued Gawker Media and Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio for defamation of character.

Refusing to Report

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Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was publicly accused of assault, ESPN came under fire for refusing to report on the story. Andrea McNulty filed a civil lawsuit against Roethlisberger, claiming that he was accused of assault in a civil lawsuit filed by a casino hostess named Andrea McNulty.

ESPN claimed the case was a private matter, and that no criminal charges had been filed. However, ESPN had clearly reported on civil cases in the past. ESPN’s actions once again garnered criticism with many saying that they were engaging in poor journalistic practices.

Ashley Madison

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Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images
Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Ashley Madison is a website where married individuals go to seek out an affair. And in an investigation of the computer use of ESPN employees, something pretty gross was revealed. Over 100 different ESPN employees actually signed up for the site while on the job, which is obviously not a good look for the company.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events though, 20 percent of the employee accounts that were discovered belonged to female employees, according to Deadspin.

Biased Coverage Because of Money?

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Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

As of 2011, ESPN has had a deal with the NFL worth more than $15 billion. Whoa! Many criticize this financial relationship and say that it creates a conflict of interest for any kind of NFL coverage. Even Forbes magazine criticized the company. ESPN has long been accused of a pro-NFL bias especially when downplaying various crimes and scandals committed by owners and particular players.

In 2015, it was reported that ESPN believes that the NFL gave them a bad Monday Night Football schedule to retaliate against comments by ESPN commentators Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons, that criticized the NFL and the commissioner. Of course, ESPN got rid of both Olbermann and Simmons that year.

Hiding Truth About Head Injuries

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Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The New York Times reported that after a meeting between ESPN executives and the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN got rid of their partnership on the PBS series Frontline on the 2013 documentary League of Denial.

The documentary detailed the history of head injuries in the NFL, and the connection between head injuries and brain disease. ESPN denied they did this because of pressure from the NFL but rather because they lacked editorial control.

Football Connected To Brain Disease

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Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In 2016, the NFL finally admitted to the connection of football head injuries and brain disease. During a discussion at a committee meeting by the U.S. House of Representatives, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, was asked about whether a link between football and brain diseases such as CTE exists.

Miller replied, “The answer to that question is certainly yes.” Soon after, ESPN released a statement standing by Miller’s words saying, “The comments made by Jeff Miller yesterday accurately reflect the view of the NFL.”

Deflate-Gate

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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

A journalist named Michael Corcoran released an article stating that ESPN’s interest in the NFL directly affected the way the organizations reported on issues, namely Deflate-gate.

Deflategate, of course, refers to the Tom Brady scandal where the Patriots were accused of tampering with footballs used in a championship game. Corcoran stated, “ESPN should, at a minimum, disclose the details of its enormous vested interest before reporting any serious story about the league.”

ESPN Hates UFC

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Zhe Ji/Getty Images
Zhe Ji/Getty Images

Many mixed martial artist and UFC fans believe that ESPN unfairly treats the sport, including scheduling bad time slots. Multiple ESPN commentators, including Skip Bayless, have criticized the sport and called it inferior to boxing. But commentator Jim Rome seems to be a fan, even regularly featuring various fighters.

Ultimately, UFC founder Dana White had enough and lashed out on Twitter saying, “ESPN always hated us and now they hate us more now that we are on FOX. They canceled my int[erview] next week for UFC Rio.”

Craig James Texas Tech Scandal

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Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The former NFL player and ESPN commentator also found himself in the middle of an ESPN scandal involving his son. Adam James was in the middle of a controversy at Texas Tech University that ended up getting the head coach suspended and fired.

The head coach was Mike Leach who had allegedly told Adam to stand in a shed for two hours during practice. James went to the chancellor of Texas Tech, Kent Hance, and various members of the board of trustees with what he felt was his unfair treatment. Because this took place ESPN had to remove Adam’s dad Craig from announcing in the Alamo Bowl. Leach ultimately filed a lawsuit against Texas Tech and the James family.

New Book Details Shocking Parties At ESPN

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Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic
Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic

A bombshell of a tell-all book unveiled some pretty shocking behaviors that took place at the sports network. From early-morning board meetings where attendees were plied with strong screwdrivers to liquid lunches to debaucherous dinners at upscale country clubs, ESPN employees like to party hard.

In the book, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, writers say that the company’s notorious Christmas parties were especially excessive. They were said to be complete with illegal substances, office hookups, and much more.

The Tweets Start Pouring In

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Twitter
Twitter

While they were most likely getting ready to go to work in Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN staffers received the call that they would no longer be working for the network. At around 7:30 am EST, one reporter after another learned they would be going to the office to collect their possessions and sign termination paperwork instead of getting ready to go on air.

The tweets expressed the bitter end of their career at the famed sports network. With many calling it “an awful day” on Twitter, fans were not happy to see their favorite reporters let go, including Canadian hockey commentator Pierre LeBrun, and senior writer Dana O’Neil, who had worked for ESPN for 10 years.