According to ESPN: The Uncensored History (Taylor Publishing
Co., $24.95), which is being published on April 5, Bristol
University is--or at least used to be--one helluva party school.
"It was not unusual," writes author Michael Freeman, "for anchor
Gary Miller, after more than a few beers, to shave his rear end
at a party to loosen everyone up."
Well, who among us hasn't.
"There was a ticker machine outside [the] SportsCenter [studio]
that had so many razor blade nicks in it from people using razor
blades to cut up their cocaine," Freeman quotes one former
employee as saying, "they had to replace the top of the machine."
That never made the "This is SportsCenter" ads.
"I know you want to screw me," Freeman has anchor Mike Tirico
telling a female coworker at a party in 1992, "so let's leave."
Anecdotes such as these and others--Tirico, who in 1992 served a
three-month suspension from his job for sexual harassment, is
the marquee name in a litany of sexual offenses--are a big
source of embarrassment for ESPN, and understandably so. In 20
years the network has risen from a plot of dirt in central
Connecticut to become the center of the TV sports universe. Yet
Freeman's book, while covering all the bases, some more
perfunctorily than others, devotes a disproportionate amount of
ink to the thesis that ESPN has been an inhospitable workplace,
especially for women. "There's 17 pages on Mike Tirico,"
complains one ESPN employee, "and probably half as many on Chris
In 1997 Freeman, the NFL beat writer for The New York Times,
faxed a letter to ESPN stating his intention to write a history
of the network and requesting access to its headquarters,
employees and archives. He was flatly rebuffed. But, says ESPN
spokesman Chris LaPlaca, "we never prohibited individuals from
talking to Mike."
Freeman, however, says the interviewing process often was
straight out of the film The Insider: "One female employee told
me to meet her at a park. We got out of our cars, and all she
said was, 'Start walking.' We walked into some woods until she
was sure we were out of sight, and only then could I interview
Freeman says that John Walsh, ESPN's executive editor, told him,
"The only way I'll talk to you [in an interview] is if I can
control the book and I can take out anything negative about
ESPN." The network's executives say they refused to assist
Freeman because they heard that he was pursuing the
sexual-harassment angle. "I don't think that we had a double
standard [in not cooperating]," says Walsh, "because the scope
and focus of the book was personnel issues, which could
potentially hurt the reputation of my colleagues."
Forced to rely too heavily on ex-employees, Freeman provides an
unflattering portrayal, an account more "boo" than "yah." ESPN
deserved to be treated better. So did Freeman.
Golf on NBC
The preliminary Nielsen rating for Sunday's final round of the
Players Championship was 5.6, outpointing CBS's NCAA men's
basketball regional final (North Carolina versus Tulsa), which
got a 5.4.
Golf on ABC
Last Saturday's third round of the LPGA's Nabisco Championship,
featuring an amazing 68 by 13-year-old Aree Wongluekiet, got a
barely detectable 0.8 Nielsen.