For full disclosure: everyone who reads my blog knows I’m a big Tony Kornheiser fan. I have posted a lot of material about Tony, hell my website url is in honor of Mr. Tony. Also I have to admit: Between 10 Am-Noon is my most unproductive (but gives me the best ideas of work) hours of the day because of the Tony Kornheiser Show.
To sum up: last Thursday, Tony made comments on his radio show on a couple fashion faux pas: one for Today‘s Hoda Kotb and her bare arms and Hannah Storm. Here was Tony’s comments on Hannah Storm that day:
“She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body … I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t … but Hannah Storm … come on now! Stop! What are you doing? She’s what I would call a Holden Caulfield fantasy at this point.”
As a fan, that statement was funny, especially his reference to Catcher in the Rye with the “Holden Caulfield Fantasy” line. As a HR person (which Tony has said are along the same line as terrorists), this looks bad. I don’t care how accurate it is, you never…EVER diss a co-worker in public. Tony knew that from the statement above, but said it anyway. Also, the sausage line gives me pause as well since it could be interpret as a euphemism. A few blogs mention
Tony’s comments on Hannah’s wardrobe and someone told Tony to diffuse the situation.
The next day, Tony went on-air to his audience and called Hannah personally to apologize for his comments. That should be it, end of story, let’s move on. However, ESPN has a different take.
Initially, Tony’s suspension was for three days. If I were in HR at ESPN, I would have reduce it to a one-day suspension, but that can be debated. However, ESPN change their mind and suspended Kornheiser for two weeks for “inappropriate, hurtful, and personal comments” towards Hannah Storm. Wait, Kornheiser did an on-air and personal apology and Hannah did not ask for suspension, so what gives?
Deadspin gives the real reason why Tony was suspended: he use Chris Berman’s name in vain. Apparently, Tony broke ESPN’s Ten Commandments that he use Berman (implied is a better term) as an example, hence the longer suspension. ESPN was fine about Hannah Storm, but not Chris Berman? This leads to the bigger issue: ESPN itself.
Tony and Hannah did the right thing and diffuse the problems themselves to limit its exposure and that should be the end of it. ESPN then came right out saying Tony was suspended for two weeks and there was a media frenzy around the suspension, even some of the press incorrectly call the incident, “a sexual harassment case.” In addition, people knew ESPN’s workplace culture from several public sexual harassment cases that shed light to their situation, plus the highlighted departures of Matt Winer and Peter Gammons and could potentially lose Erin Andrews, Bill Simmons, and Chris Berman before the end of the year.
Another thing to ponder: ESPN hired Tony Kornheiser back in the mid 90s to be an asshole. He was frequently on The Sports Reporters to be an asshole. He was selected to be a co-host of PTI because he’s an asshole. He was one of the Dream Job judges because he loves Simon Cowell, who is an asshole. You hire him for Monday Night Football to be an asshole, yet he got suspended twice from ESPN of being asshole? Which Tony does ESPN want?
You have to ask ESPN this: what did ESPN do when Mike Golic bashed Tony when it was announced he was an analyst for MNF? What about when Mike Greenberg said a derogatory word on air on Martin Luther King Day? What about Bill Simmons occasional bashing of ESPN, the company he is currently working for? The answer to all of these questions: nothing.
Basically, ESPN turned into the International Luge Federation and made the situation worse by putting the onus on Kornheiser-Storm and not the real reason for this fiasco: Chris Berman. This speaks of ESPN acting as if Kornheiser was the antagonist of the event since he attack someone from a “protected class.” If you want to justify the suspension, mention that he said bad things publicly about Chris Berman and you will get fewer people upset about it.
The moral of this ESPN story for HR is know who you hire and try your best of not to be surprise as a result. Also in some cases, employees know how to deal with the situation on their own and saving HR’s time. In addition, be transparent of what and why you do it because anyone can blow the door wide open if it is kept hidden. Finally, understand the culture you’re working at because some do get special treatment that is unfair to others.
It is alright to have conflicts and disagreements in-house, like Tony bashing Digger Phelps and his “tie-lighter” or his numerous fights against Paul Farhi when he was with the Washington Post at the time. ESPN knew the risks and rewards of hiring Tony Kornheiser and they realize they control the sports empire in part because of PTI and him. However, they should also know everyone is gunning for them and be prepared to take hits, including their perennial superstars like Berman, Stuart Scott, and Bill Simmons. In this case, ESPN opened their own Pandora’s Box by shifting blame to who they think are expendable.
For that, it’s a shame ESPN took that route.
By the way, if you really want to work for Chris Berman, you have to deal with this: