Fired for something

From Yahoo! Sports blogs on January 4 (hat tip from Chris Vinyl):

ESPN fires announcer for calling female colleague ‘sweet baby’
By Chris Chase

ESPN announcer Ron Franklin was fired by the network on Tuesday after making made a derogatory remark to sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards in a meeting before the Fiesta Bowl. Franklin had been pulled from the game’s coverage after the incident.

[other ESPN incidents]

… Franklin was reprimanded after a complaint was made about his behavior toward Edwards at a meeting. “Why don’t you leave this to the boys, sweet baby?” Franklin allegedly said. When Edwards objected to the derogatory language, Franklin responded, “okay then, [expletive].”

The 68-year-old play-by-play announcer later apologized and said he deserved to be taken off the Fiesta Bowl broadcast. It didn’t save him, as ESPN cut ties with him on Tuesday. In a statement, the network said briefly, “based on what occurred last Friday, we have ended our relationship with him.”

Though the high-profile ESPN incidents make it seem as though the network is a hotbed for boorish behavior, Dan Lebowitz, the executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University told the Washington Post that it’s no worse than in other male-dominated businesses.

“I hate to single out ESPN for having a dysfunctional culture,” Lebowitz told the Post’s Paul Farhi. “It just mimics an inherent ill in our society … It just seems more sensational at ESPN because they’re a very public entity.”

Once the story proved to have legs throughout the holiday weekend, ESPN had little choice but to fire Franklin. The network should be praised for taking a stand, but the fact that it waited four days suggests that if the Franklin story had gone away quickly, he’d still have a job today.

Several points here.

First, the head picks out “sweet baby” as the responsible utterance (other reports have “sweetcakes”) — this was the thing Edwards objected to — but there’s also the condescending “leave this to the boys”, and the largest problem might well have been the [expletive], which the blog is too delicate to print.

In e-mail to me, Vinyl suggested bitch, and that seems to be the consensus on the web, but some reports have asshole. Vinyl’s guess seems more likely to me, since bitch is generally directed at women (or gay men), while asshole is usually directed at men. In any case,leave this to the boys, sweet baby” is (doubly) condescending, while bitch and asshole are straightforward slurs. The whole package is ugly.

Second, Lebowitz’s comment comes close to downplaying the offense by saying that such language is widespread in male-dominated businesses and indeed in the society — men are pigs, so suck it up, sweet baby — and while that is surely so, Edwards should not have been expected to take it without comment. (I disregard bloggers on the internet who say that Edwards is a bitch, so Franklin was just speaking truthfully.)

Third, there’s the question of whether firing, rather than just a reprimand, was the appropriate action for ESPN to take, and some commenters have expressed astonishment at the severity of ESPN’s response. There’s apparently been some pattern in Edwards’s behavior toward women, so maybe ESPN thought this episode was the last straw.

But, fourth point, there’s the business of the four-day delay in firing Franklin, which suggests that ESPN’s response wasn’t driven by its own outrage but by the continued media coverage of the story, which was embarrassing to the network. Maybe it was all just a media event.


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