Report: Black Employees Face Everyday Racism at ESPN

ESPN covers Black athletes but has a disproportionate number of Black employees in positions of power

The ESPN logo on display at the Birmingham Bowl in 2018
The ESPN logo on display at the Birmingham Bowl in 2018.
Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
By Evan Bleier / July 13, 2020 11:41 am

Black ESPN employees, many of whom work behind the scenes and do not appear on camera, have started to speak up about the everyday racism they experience working at the Worldwide Leader, according to a new piece in The New York Times.

The entrenched racism and barriers for advancement that Black employees face at the sports media giant were epitomized by an incident during a college football conference call last month to discuss race following the murder of George Floyd.

In the midst of the two-hour call to allow Black employees to share their personal experiences with discrimination, on-air host Maria Taylor was speaking about her treatment at ESPN when she was interrupted by white play-by-play man Dave LaMont.

The announcer, who didn’t realize his microphone was not muted, was heard complaining to someone that the call was just a “venting” session for Black employees.

“It was such a slap in the face,” Taylor told the Times. “When I was in it, that was horrible. But now, looking back, it was an awakening moment. This is part of our culture. There are people that feel this way.”

The incident is emblematic of ESPN being a network that routinely covers Black athletes but has a disproportionate number of Black employees in positions of power.

While that is hardly a problem that is unique to ESPN, it is especially disturbing to employees at a company that projects a diverse outward face, according to the more than two dozen current and former ESPN employees the Times interviewed.

Even Stephen A. Smith, one of the faces of ESPN and one of the network’s highest-paid employees, said his employer had fallen behind on maintaining diversity, pointing out that top execs overseeing NFL, NBA and MLB programming are all white.

“There are certain things that should have been done years ago,” Smith said. “There are a plethora of people that have come through ESPN that I thought could do some very positive things for ESPN about that bottom line. They happened to be Black, and I don’t believe they have been put in those positions.”

With discussions about race ongoing at ESPN as they are within many other major organizations, network president Jimmy Pitaro acknowledged the company is not where it needs to be and vowed changes are on the way.

“I am confident that based on the conversations that I am having daily, that leaders across ESPN understand the importance of diversity and the urgency here,” he said.

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