Last month, former DK Pittsburgh Sports employee Katie Brown published a scathing essay on Medium accusing site founder Dejan Kovacevic of driving her to tears with insulting criticism that she felt was unfair. Kovacevic responded with a post on his site in which he apologized for being a bad boss, and weeks later he announced that he would stick to writing columns while his wife Dali and Steelers writer Dale Lolley took over the site.
On Thursday, the charges against Kovacevic got a whole lot worse. In a long and thorough piece published Thursday, Deadspin described Kovacevic as harsh and impatient boss who drove away numerous staffers — and also a bully who allegedly solicited sex from female employees.
Conversations with more than a dozen former and current staffers and people who interacted with Kovacevic describe a boss who had grabbed a significant piece of the pie in the landscape of Pittsburgh sports media but was too impatient to let his staff develop; changed their responsibilities seemingly at whim; and generally acted like a tyrant. And in some interactions, according to former staffers, Kovacevic went far beyond merely being a bad boss.
Many of the details in the Deadspin piece simply painted Kovacevic as a penny-pincher and a bad manager of people, such as the revelation that he failed to follow through on promises to make contracted writers into full-time employees, that he didn’t cover food and gas for reporters on the road, and that he reacts disproportionately to writer’s small mistakes.
But other allegations were more disturbing, such as the charge (which he denies) that when asked whether a female baseball writer knew the sport he replied, “‘I don’t know, but her tits will look good on Channel 11.’”
Then there was the truly appalling allegation that Kovacevic had said over text that he would give a writer an unpaid job if she agreed to have sex with him and his wife, or just his wife.
Beth Mincin, a Pittsburgh-based sports blogger who has written for PensInitiative.com and SB Nation’s Behind The Steel Curtain, says she met Kovacevic in 2014 at the Riverhounds’ stadium while he was covering the team. She says that in June of 2014, Kovacevic texted her to let her know that he would soon be launching the site, and while he said he couldn’t hire her as a staffer or pay her to write, he offered her exposure on DKPS as a reward for a much different assignment: have a threesome with him and his wife, or have sex with his wife while he watched.
Per Deadspin, Kovacevic strongly denied that accusation, which was corroborated by people who had seen the alleged texts.
Above all, Deadspin’s piece suggests that Brown’s negative experience at DK Pittsburgh Sports was not particularly unique.
Brown’s stories rang true to other former staffers.
“Some of what [was] described [by Brown] was very familiar, like late-night text messages over minutiae and put-downs about work quality,” said one former staffer who requested their name not be used. “That stuff, to me, was always pretty minor. That’s just the way some people are wired. He’s not pleasant to work for. I don’t think anyone would say otherwise.”
The staffer said of Brown, “on the whole, our experiences were pretty similar.”
Another former staffer said that while they personally did not receive similar messages from Kovacevic, they recounted opening their email inbox on their first day to find emails from Kovacevic to the previous person who had used that inbox, and said the emails “sounded a lot like what Katie posted.”
“I read Katie Brown’s story. It’s strange to read words written by another person that you said exactly to yourself years ago,” said a third former staffer. “Her experience is similar to mine and many others among the score of people who are now former employees of Dejan’s. His penchant for a 180-degree shift in thought from one minute to the next is the root of his employees’ incessant stress.”
As Kovacevic became aware that Deadspin was preparing a piece about him, he reportedly told the DK Pittsburgh Sports staff that the site had a vendetta because Brown’s brother-in-law works there. Deadspin reports that Brown does not even have a brother-in-law, let alone one who works for Deadspin.
Kovacevic repeated the claim about Deadspin’s supposed grudge in a post on DK Pittsburgh Sports on Wednesday night headlined, “About the coming Deadspin article.” Here’s an excerpt:
The website Deadspin, with a whole lot of pushing from people no longer with our company and others in the local media, will publish an article at some point this week about my management of this company that will portray me as both a bad boss and even as a bad person. As I wrote a month ago, both have been the case far more often than I’d like. I’ve really messed up on both fronts.
But I’ve also never hurt anyone, never mistreated anyone — not at this company, not anywhere — and, above all, never came close to disrespecting women. (I’ll get to that in a minute.) I’ve made rash hires, uncomfortable firings, and people have come and gone too often at this place. But there’s never been any suggestion, much less an allegation — and there won’t be one in this article, either — of anything remotely resembling misconduct.
Kovacevic founded DK Pittsburgh Sports in 2014 as the first prominent subscription-based local sports website. His model provided proof of concept for The Athletic and directly inspired the recently launched Boston Sports Journal.