By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 6:10 PM
ESPN fired veteran play-by-play announcer Ron Franklin on Tuesday, four days after Franklin referred to a female colleague as "sweet baby" and followed that up with an expletive after she objected.
Franklin, who has called games for the sports cable network since 1987, was due to broadcast the Fiesta Bowl game on ESPN's radio network Saturday, but he was yanked off the air by as a result of the run-in on Friday with sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards during an off-air encounter.
Franklin, 68, apologized on Monday for his remarks to Edwards, but to no apparent avail.
The incident is the latest in a long string of episodes in which ESPN hosts have demeaned or engaged in sexually harassing behavior toward the Disney-owned network's female employees.
Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds was fired in 2006 after being accused of harassment by a female employee. Steve Phillips, another baseball analyst, lost his job in 2009 as a result of an affair with a much younger production assistant who disclosed the relationship to Phillips's wife after he sought to break it off. In 2007, a makeup artist working on the since-canceled show "Cold Pizza" sued the program's co-hosts, alleging they groped and harassed her. (The suit was thrown out.)
Last year, former Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser, co-star of the popular ESPN show "Pardon the Interruption," was suspended for critical comments he made on his local radio program about "SportsCenter" host Hannah Storm's clothes.
Franklin reportedly addressed another sideline reporter, Holly Rowe, as "sweetheart" during a 2005 broadcast. He later apologized to Rowe.
That incident prompted ESPN ombudsman George Solomon to observe at the time: "Play-by-play commentators need to take sideline reporters - many of whom are women - more seriously. So does ESPN, which needs to give these reporters more airtime and more serious issues to address."
In a statement Monday about Franklin, ESPN said, "We're not going to get into specifics other than to say adhering to our personal-conduct policies and showing respect for colleagues are of the utmost importance to our company and we take them extremely seriously."
The network also issued a statement from Franklin, saying: "I said some things I shouldn't have and am sorry. I deserved to be taken off the Fiesta Bowl."
ESPN dealt with dozens of sexual harassment incidents in the first two decades after its founding in 1979, according to "ESPN: The Uncensored History," a book by New York Times sportswriter Mike Freeman that was published in 2000. Among those disciplined, according to the book, was "Monday Night Football" announcer Mike Tirico, who in 1992 was suspended for unwelcome advances toward another employee.
Despite its track record, ESPN is no more hospitable to harassing behavior than other male-dominated workplaces, said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Sport in Society program at Northeastern University.
"I hate to single out ESPN for having a dysfunctional culture," Lebowitz said. "It just mimics an inherent ill in our society. It's more a reflection of overall societal behavior where women are mistreated in the workplace. Whether it's the investment industry or the entertainment industry or something else, it's across the board. It just seems more sensational at ESPN because they're a very public entity."
Added Lebowitz, "There's still an awful long way to go in terms of teachable moments for men to understand proper workplace conduct and to treat women as equals."
At the very least, he said, ESPN "has sent a message" that such conduct won't be tolerated, by firing or suspending employees whose behavior crossed the line.
The Franklin-Edwards exchange came before the Florida State-South Carolina game. Franklin was talking with two fellow announcers, Rod Gilmore and Ed Cunningham, about Gilmore's wife, Marie, who was elected mayor of Alameda, Calif., in November.
When Edwards tried to join the conversation, Franklin allegedly responded, "Why don't you leave this to the boys, sweet cakes?" according to the Web site Sportsbybrooks.com, which first reported the incident. (Edwards later told USA Today that Franklin used the term "sweet baby.")
When Edwards objected to Franklin's comment, Franklin allegedly responded, "Okay then, [expletive]."
After senior executives learned of the comments, ESPN tried to pull Franklin off the game but couldn't find a replacement for him in time. He and Edwards worked together that night without apparent incident. He was replaced the next night on the radio broadcast of a second college game.