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Staff dust-up, plagiarism dog ESPN

Don Ohlmeyer's 18-month tenure as ESPN ombudsman is scheduled to end next month, and should he write a final column or two, he won't have to look far for issues.

On Sunday, the Web site SportsbyBrooks reported that longtime ESPN broadcaster Ron Franklin was pulled from the radio broadcast of the Fiesta Bowl after he allegedly referred to colleague Jeannine Edwards as "sweet cakes" before the start of a meeting with Florida State coaches Friday for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Edwards told Franklin that she did not appreciate being addressed that way. That prompted Franklin to allegedly say, "OK then, a--hole."

The Web site reported that ESPN tried to remove Franklin from the Chick-fil-A coverage that night but was unable to find a replacement in time. The network replaced Franklin for Saturday's Fiesta Bowl radio coverage with Dave Lamont.

"We made a late play-by-play change to the Fiesta Bowl radio team," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said in a statement to SI.com on Sunday. "We're not going to get into specifics other than to say adhering to our personal conduct policies and showing respect for colleagues are of the utmost importance to our company and we take them extremely seriously."Edwards, speaking with SI.com on Monday, did not dispute the SportsbyBrooks report, though she said some minor facts were inaccurate. She said Franklin used the term "sweet baby," not "sweet cakes," that a colleague, not Edwards, reported Franklin's behavior to ESPN officials, and that the exchange occurred in a hotel hallway, not during a production meeting with Florida State coaches. Edwards was initially speaking to colleague Rod Gilmore about his wife's being elected mayor of Alameda, Calif. Soon, additional ESPN colleagues joined the conversation, including Franklin. That's when Edwards said the incident took place.

Edwards declined to characterize previous interactions with Franklin. She and Franklin worked together for much of the 2010 season and on occasion before this year.

Franklin, via an ESPN spokesperson, told SI.com on Monday: "I said some things I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry. I deserved to be taken off the Fiesta Bowl."

This isn't the first time that Franklin has apologized for his interaction with a female sideline reporter. In 2005, ESPN's then-ombudsman, George Solomon, wrote: "According to the Chicago Tribune, sideline reporter Holly Rowe lauded Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack for using all three timeouts on defense despite trailing by four touchdowns late in the game. 'If the coaches are giving up,' Rowe added, 'what does that say to the players?' Play-by-play commentator Ron Franklin responded: 'Holly, it's not giving up. It's 49-21, sweetheart.' Franklin's comment, and demeaning tone, in response to Rowe's legitimate observation was disrespectful to the audience and to a colleague. 'It was an inappropriate comment, and we've communicated that to Ron,' said Mo Davenport, senior coordinating producer for college football. 'There's never a reason to say something so mean-spirited. Ron apologized. We dealt with it internally.' "

The Franklin-Edwards exchange was the second high-profile incident involving an ESPN on-air talent recently. Last week, ESPN anchor Will Selva was suspended for plagiarizing several sentences of a Lakers story written by the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding. The reporter first brought Selva's swipe to public attention via his Twitter account and Lakers blog. Selva apologized through ESPN's communications department.

"I made a horrible mistake and I'm deeply sorry. I did not live up to my high standards or ESPN's," said Selva, who will not appear on the air in the near future. "I sincerely apologize for my sloppiness, especially to Kevin Ding, viewers and colleagues. In my 15 years in broadcast journalism, nothing like this has ever happened and I will make every effort to ensure it won't happen again."

The question remains whether ESPN (or Ohlmeyer) will investigate Selva to determine if this was a one-time occurrence or part of a pattern of plagiarism. Traditionally in newspapers, other staff reporters would be assigned to investigate such transgressions. (Here is how the The New York Timesreported on itself last March when plagiarism hit its newsroom, calling the act a "mortal journalism sin.") It will be interesting to see where ESPN goes with this in the days ahead.

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