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  • A makeup artist who worked at NFL Network shares her firsthand experience with inappropriate sexual advances from former players Eric Davis and Michael Irvin.
By Erin McParland
December 21, 2017

As told to Tim Rohan

A few months after starting work as a makeup artist at NFL Network in 2014, Jami Cantor pulled me aside to offer some advice. At this time, Jami had been head of the network’s wardrobe for nearly a decade. Although she didn’t get too specific, she left me with a warning:

You’re new. You’re pretty. You’ll be targeted. Be careful.

She was very clear that she didn’t doubt my professionalism, but that some of the talent were exceptionally aggressive and inappropriate when it came to sexual behavior in the workplace.

Now the world has heard the specifics of what happened to Jami. She filed a lawsuit this fall against the NFL Network, saying she had been the victim of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, age and sex discrimination, and wrongful termination. She named six members of the on-air talent and one top executive, Eric Weinberger, who she says sexually harassed her.

I freelanced with the NFL Network, which is owned by the league, for three football seasons. It turned out that Jami’s warning was spot on. I was eventually targeted.

I was sexually harassed and assaulted too, and I made an HR complaint against two members of the on-air talent. After I reported them, I was disappointed in the network’s response.

Jami and I shared one of the same abusers: Eric Davis, a former NFL cornerback turned analyst. It started during my second season with the NFL Network with a comment here and there. When Davis came to the makeup room, he would comment on how flexible I was when I leaned down to pick up a product. I brushed such comments off.

Once the 2015-16 NFL season ended and, consequently, my shifts at the NFL Network studio in California dropped off, I began getting direct messages from Davis over Instagram. He continued to remark on my flexibility and became suggestive about how good things could be between us sexually. I continued to brush off these unwanted sexual comments.

In March 2016, I was working at the Indian Wells tennis tournament in California. An avid tennis fan, Davis told me he would be attending the event and suggested we get together. I told him I spent my time outside of work resting up, given my long days. His reply was that long days meant nights off. To put an end to his persistence, I told him where I would be during the day—on site, in full view of coworkers, in a 100% safe environment. With that, I thought he had finally gotten the hint, as I stopped hearing from him. 

Once the NFL season kicked back into gear, my run-ins with Davis resumed. Initially, things were fine. This was a tremendous relief since leading up to the season, I had dreaded having to face any further unwanted advances.  I felt a major weight lifted.

One day, before leaving the makeup room, Davis leaned in for a hug. Since things seemed back on track, I didn’t see the harm. Except the hug lingered on too long for my comfort.

The next time I was in makeup and Davis was leaving, he leaned in for another hug. This time, not only was the hug too long, but it was too close. I could feel him pressing and rubbing his genitals into my leg. I felt frozen, numb.

The third and final incident was full-on predatory, and it came during the filming of Total Access, one of the network’s premier shows. Davis went in for a hug and then, with both hands, grabbed and fondled my buttocks. I instantly pulled away, recoiling. I looked him in the eyes and firmly told him, “Hands off.”

His response to groping me at work was simply to walk out with no comment.  This was no misunderstanding. I had just been sexually assaulted in my workplace.

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About a week later, Davis and I were scheduled to work the same day. I tried to get one of the other makeup artists to do his makeup in my place, but she was also uncomfortable with him. During some quiet moments in the makeup room, she and I exchanged stories. It turned out he had done the same exact thing to her that he had done to me. Typically, during Total Access, all hair and makeup people go to the set—except for one artist who stays back in the makeup room, in case any on-air talent needs last minute makeup for breaking news. This is when he would target us, because we were alone.

Hearing her account, identical to mine, put me over the edge. I went from feeling numb and scared to feeling angry and vulnerable. I went straight to HR. As soon as the door closed behind me, I sobbed.

I was able to give them detailed accounts and shared the messages between Davis and me from Instagram. The person I spoke to in HR noted that it was obvious that I was trying to politely avoid an awkward, inappropriate situation. She told me how surprised she was at his behavior, as he didn’t seem to be that kind of guy. He seemed so nice.

I went on to tell her how Michael Irvin had also made inappropriate gestures and comments. How once, on the set of GameDay, he grabbed my waist while I was powdering him on set during a commercial break. I was mortified. Not only was this unwanted attention not acceptable, I was worried that everyone witnessing this might believe I thought this was okay. Or worse—welcomed.

From then on, my guard with Irvin was up. I went out of my way to avoid him, and if I did have to work with him, I’d have to remind him to “not touch.” In what world is it normal for someone to have to remind their coworker to not touch them?

My anxiety was through the roof. I felt embarrassed and scared to report these incidents because of the culture at the network—it feels like you’re supposed to just deal with it. I had a good gig, and the vast majority of NFL Network employees are good people. But it was a place where this kind of behavior from a few bad apples, particularly ex-players, was normalized.  

NFL Network’s HR never followed up with me about Irvin’s behavior, but regarding Davis they initially handled my case thoroughly, with empathy and support. While HR looked into the matter, they covered my shifts on days I was scheduled to work with Davis to avoid any further run-ins. I stressed my need to keep things confidential, as you can’t predict how people will react when confronted with allegations like these.

I was able to convince my coworker to speak with HR based on her similar experiences with Davis. She was very hesitant; the NFL Network was her primary source of income. I am so appreciative of her bravery, because it not only added validity to my reports, but also showed a trend in ongoing abusive behavior.

From there, Davis was summoned to meet with the head of the HR department at the time. I found it odd and highly uncomfortable that the NFL Network decided to have me work on the day they were planning to confront him. I voiced my concerns about having an awkward run in, but I was assured by HR that Davis was not aware of my involvement and that directly after his meeting, he would be given direct and specific instructions to vacate the premises until further notice. 

I was taken aback first thing in the morning when Davis stopped in the makeup room. There was no reason for him to be there. He said he had a meeting to go to and would see us all later.

His unexpected appearance set off an inner panic. I decided to confide in one of the other artists who was working alongside me that day. She was very supportive, and not at all surprised that this had happened.

Around lunch time, I texted an HR staffer: Is the coast clear? No response.

Suddenly, Davis came into the makeup room. Going out of his way, he walked over to me and got in my face, taking an aggressive stance. His tone was calm. Haven’t talked to you in a while. You doing O.K.?

The man I had just accused of sexual assault was right in my face. My adrenaline spiked, but I stayed outwardly calm. Leaning back in my chair, I told him I was good but that I had a cold, so not to get too close. He left.

My coworker, clued in to what had just happened, sat in her chair across from me, holding a stiff posture, looking at me wide eyed. Are you kidding me? Where is HR? I thought he wasn’t allowed to come back into this building? My thoughts exactly.

The head of HR apologized profusely over the mishandled situation. But his shock over Davis’s behavior was astonishing to me. Why had I been put in this situation? And how was HR surprised by his lack of regard after their meeting—when Davis was literally being investigated for his inability to follow workplace rules! No wonder women remain silent when it comes to harassment and assault in the workplace. There’s a big difference between someone reassuring you of your right to safely report abuse and actually being able to safely report abuse.

The HR head explained to me that it would be in Davis’s best interest to leave the NFL Network quietly. That would protect both the network and Davis from negative public exposure. Both parties would save face. Lift the rug, sweep it under.

As a result of this quiet parting of ways, Eric Davis was hired at ESPN—where I have worked as a freelancer. Thanks to Jami’s lawsuit, he’s currently suspended pending an internal investigation, but it’s possible that I could be faced with having to see his face in my chair again when I return to my job there in the new year.

There should be no spectrum of tolerance for this behavior, no bullying. I should be able to go to work and not be afraid of being groped. Is that too much to ask? I can already hear the comments some people will have after they read this. He just grabbed her ass, what’s the big deal? or Oh, she just wants the attention. To these people I simply say, who on earth would want attention for something so degrading? I sincerely hope your daughter, your mother or your sister never has to write about a workplace experience like this.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:

SI reached out for comment about both Davis and Irvin and received the following statement from VP of Communications for NFL Media Alex Riethmiller:

“Ms. McParland brought forth allegations of inappropriate workplace conduct. NFL Media thoroughly investigated the allegations and took swift, appropriate remedial action, including severing our relationship with Mr. Davis. The NFL is committed to providing a safe work environment for all of our employees.”

ESPN referred SI to their earlier statement, issued when Jami Cantor’s lawsuit became public: “We are investigating and [Donovan] McNabb and Davis will not appear on our networks as that investigation proceeds.”

Eric Davis and Michael Irvin have not responded to SI’s request for comment.

 

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