Is there a new culture at ESPN?

On Thursday, Deadspin rehashed the mostly non-sexual yet still bizarre relationship between Steve Phillips and Brooke Hundley that brought about massive changes (on the surface at least) at ESPN.

Phillips, a baseball analyst, and Hundley, a production assistant, had an odd, yet grossly inappropriate relationship that ended both their careers at the WWL.

They met during the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis and shared a kiss in a hotel lobby. As John Koblin at Deadspin recaps:

After that first kiss, Hundley returned to the hotel bar. The first person Hundley ran into was her boss, an ESPN production coordinator named Joya Caskey. Hundley told her that Phillips had asked her to come up to his hotel room. There are companies in America where a manager might be concerned that an older, married employee was propositioning a much younger underling. On that night, at least, ESPN was not such a company.

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"This is television," Caskey told Hundley, according to confidential notes from Caskey's meeting with ESPN's human resources department. "That's what happens. It goes with the industry." (In the same meeting, Caskey acknowledged that she hadn't told her supervisor about the proposition.)

In her deposition, ESPN HR rep Donna Hricisko remembered the quote as: "Get used to it. This is the culture of ESPN."

According to Hundley, Caskey was even more explicit. "Get used to it, kid," Caskey said, per Hundley's deposition. "If I had a dollar for every time I was sexually harassed at ESPN, I would be a millionaire."

The rest of Deadspin’s piece is a depressing example of how the real world sometimes works. Phillips wanted to trade Hundley’s silence for career advancement. Hundley eventually went Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction on him. The entire thing blew up in ESPN’s face, ending with a lawsuit from Hundley while Phillips found himself on the receiving end of divorce papers.

After Deadspin posted their piece, another outlet involved in originally reporting the Phillips story and feuding with ESPN, the New York Post, posted their own epitaph:

The Post broke the Phillips story with a number of front-page exclusives, exposing how Hundley ratted out the philanderer to his wife after he made her the subject of office gossip.

The scandal was so messy that ESPN had to change the office culture in a serious way:

An ESPN source told me that the company handles intra-office romances more "promptly and seriously" since the Phillips-Hundley affair. The fallout from the scandal, the source added, "taught the company it had to have a no-tolerance approach, which they hadn't really had before." (Well, almost no tolerance. Ex-jocks "live in a different space," the source said. "They are much more likely to be protected and their behavior characterized as 'boys being boys.'")

We haven’t heard about any ESPN-related scandals in a while – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Phillips and Hundley may have been the messiest, but they were not the first, nor, I’m willing to bet, would they be the last affair to happen in Bristol. Scandals like this usually just teach us to keep secrets a little bit better – and it is unrealistic to think this kind of behavior stopped altogether. Although ESPN is putting on a much cleaner public image, you wonder just how deep that culture change is really entrenched in Bristol.

While it is commendable that ESPN wants to take a no-tolerance approach on this type of activity after the public shame the Steve Phillips affair brought, HR cannot babysit everyone 24/7, so it is entirely possible situations like this still happen with none of us being the wiser.

[Deadspin/NY Post]

Reva Friedel

About Reva Friedel

Reva is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and the AP Party. She lives in Orange County and roots for zero California teams.

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