ESPN is trying to claim the moral high ground this week, but its dark past and dim present are making it difficult for it to do so.
The sports network garnered attention recently when it announced the cancellation of “Barstool Van Talk,” a football-centered program featuring two Barstool Sports personalities, Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter. The series aired a grand total of one episode. ESPN put out a brief press release on Twitter saying the network did not want to be associated with the male-geared sports website due to complaints of sexist and crude content.
“While we had approval on the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content,” said ESPN president John Skipper in the public statement.
The cancellation came shortly after ESPN “Sunday NFL Countdown” host Sam Ponder posted screenshots of a Barstool Sports blog post from 2014 that said “F*** SAM PONDER THAT BIBLE THUMPING FREAK.” ESPN columnist Sarah Spain also reportedly sent executives an email expressing concerns over her employer’s relationship with the controversial Barstool.
Certainly, Ponder's complaint was merited; she was unhappy with comments the site made about her a few years back. The issue here, however, is ESPN's claiming the moral high ground in such a situation.
Former Playboy model Jenn Sterger took to Twitter on Monday — not to defend Barstool Sports, but to attack ESPN for the sexism she allegedly experienced from employees of the company. In her tweetstorm, Sterger alleged that she was brought out to a club, which turned out to be a strip club, by an ESPN colleague after a test for a show.
"I had to watch as my male co-workers got lap dances from girls while they teased me about how I was uncomfortable and didn't want to participate," wrote Sterger. She added that she spoke to two of her bosses about the incident, but was met with resistance.
"They admonished me and said it was a bad look for the company for me to be there and to never do it again," she claimed. "I was fired before my plane landed in Tampa."
Shortly after, however, one of the men who was at the strip club with Sterger invited her for a job interview, but she revealed that the man started asking her about her sex life and detailing his own. Sterger alleged that the unnamed man was suggesting he was helping women's careers at the network because they were sleeping with him.
The man, who she stated is still employed at ESPN, drove her from Connecticut to New York City (after her scheduled car service was canceled) and then invited her to dinner — before she ditched him and went home by herself.
"He's a decision-maker there," she revealed about the man. Sterger said she "cried the whole way home" and heard from a friend that the man said he only interviewed Sterger to prove she was "just as f***able in person as I was in pictures."
Sterger is far from the first woman to claim sexual harassment against the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports."
Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds was fired by the company in 2006 for alleged sexual harassment.
In 2015, ESPN settled with a former employee on a sexual harassment case in order to avoid going to court. Sue Baumann, working as a makeup artist for ESPN's "NFL Countdown," claimed host Chris Berman sexually harassed her by making inappropriate comments towards her.
This is the same network that fired conservatives Curt Schilling and Britt McHenry but has kept on the leftist and controversial Jemele Hill, who has compared the Boston Celtics to Adolf Hitler and called Donald Trump a white supremacist. The irony here is that ESPN does not want to associate with Barstool Sports or conservatives in general, but it is willing to keep on staff a polarizing figure like Hill, who may alienate a large chunk of the network's potential audience.
It may also be worth noting that ESPN is owned by Disney, which from 1993 to 2005 owned Miramax , a film and television company founded by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. During that span, Weinstein allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted many women.
ESPN's Barstool breakup and sexual harassment complaints are just a couple of the reasons why the network's ratings continue to drop. From 2015 to 2016, its ratings went down 11 percent after dropping 7 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Sports Illustrated. The company even announced 100 layoffs last April.
The company's polarizing left-wing views have damaged its reputation as a sports network, but left- and right-wingers alike should know that ESPN is not in a position to take the moral high road against companies like Barstool Sports.
ESPN even responded to Sterger's complaints about employees allegedly harassing her.
In an ironic twist of fate, ESPN thought it could win favor by disassociating with Barstool Sports over concerns of sexist and misogynistic content, yet the network is not ready to investigate its own people for what could be even worse behavior.
At this point, it's not as knowledgeable on how to build a network as much as it is in destroying one.