“While I had developed emotional armor all my life, that armor was shattered earlier this week,” Dunlap said in a statement on Sept. 13, “as a result of a hateful and homophobic Twitter attack from the official Twitter account of my employer.”
Except the anti-gay tweet, the station later said, may have actually been posted from Dunlap’s own cellphone. That accusation is at the heart of a dizzying back-and-forth between the host and his former employer — including a lawsuit, a lie-detector test and a police investigation — that resulted in the radio station firing him last week.
Dunlap’s attorney said the firing was unjust and promised that it would factor into a planned lawsuit against the station.
“The action of Entercom wrongfully terminating Mr. Dunlap has compounded his damages,” Megan C. Kiefer told NOLA.com.
Dunlap, who was promoted in February 2017 to host a show called “The Last Lap with Seth Dunlap,” said he did not talk about his sexuality online or on air, but didn’t hide it either. On social media, he spoke out in support of LGBT athletes and penned a lengthy open letter to Drew Brees, criticizing the New Orleans Saints quarterback for appearing in an ad for a religious, anti-LGBT group.
In that letter, he recounted how he had been fired from jobs at a radio station in Washington state and as a high school volleyball coach for being in a relationship with another man. A decade later, Dunlap said, his former boss at the station in New Orleans told him that having a gay journalist cover the Saints would “make players uncomfortable."
On Sept. 10, Dunlap published a column analyzing the Saints’ 30-28 win against the Houston Texans in the first week of the NFL season. Posting the column to Twitter, he wrote: “Which of these 5 ‘overreactions’ isn’t actually an overreaction? You tell me …"
“That you’re a f--,” the verified WWL account said, re-sharing his post with the slur.
The station’s message was taken down, but by then, it was too late. Later that night, WWL Radio called the tweet “categorically offensive and abhorrent,” saying it would conduct an internal investigation and take “swift and appropriate action once we determine how this occurred.”
Dunlap appeared on the show later that evening and seemed nonchalant. “I’m just going to really enjoy knowing somebody is exceptionally upset I get to talk sports every night for a living,” he said on his Twitter account.
The next day, however, he took the night off from his show to “reflect and decompress.” On Sept. 12, he announced that his absence would be extending indefinitely.
“I have tried hard to not make this about me because, truthfully, it’s not,” he wrote on social media. “It’s about a culture of hate and bigotry that has proliferated recently in our society.”
Meanwhile, other sports journalists in New Orleans expressed their support for Dunlap, as word of the offensive tweet made headlines across the country. A WWL executive, Kevin Cassidy, sent a staff memo in support of the host, saying he was “personally disgusted” by the message, according to NOLA.com. Another WWL host devoted two hours on-air to discussing the incident.
“Living as an openly gay man in the Deep South with a career in sports broadcasting, a career field that is traditionally highly homophobic is incomprehensibly challenging … I never wanted to be ‘That Gay Sportscaster.' I’ve only ever wanted to be an exceptional sportscaster that happens to be gay,” Dunlap wrote in a lengthy statement on Sept. 13. “I feel like that focus has been unceremoniously ripped away from me.”
Behind the scenes, though, a tense backroom battle was erupting between Dunlap and WWL.
As the station launched its investigation, Dunlap allegedly demanded more than $1.8 million in compensation while he was facing financial troubles, Cassidy, the station executive, said in a police report later obtained by local media outlets. While on leave, the report claimed, the host threatened the station and its parent company, Pennsylvania-based Entercom, that he would go “scorched earth" over the tweet.
The police report also said that the company had hired a digital forensics firm, which found that the tweet had not come from a hack — as some had suspected — but rather from an IP address linked to Dunlap’s phone. Security footage also allegedly showed Dunlap entering his office and closing the door the moment before the tweet had been sent.
On Sept. 25, WWL released a statement saying it had handed the matter off to authorities. New Orleans police opened an investigation into possible extortion, NOLA.com reported, and a week later, they obtained a warrant for Dunlap’s cellphone. That investigation is still ongoing.
But Dunlap’s attorney, Kiefer, disputes the station’s findings. Dunlap had nothing to do with posting the offensive tweet, she said. While 14 staff members had access to the station’s Twitter account, her client was not one of them, she said.
The radio host had experienced an “appalling history of discrimination” from the company, she charged in a statement released to the press, that had culminated with the homophobic tweet. It was only after Entercom had unsuccessfully tried to settle Dunlap’s workplace complaints for a low amount, she told NOLA.com, that the company went to police.
Hours before the station said it had closed its own investigation, Kiefer said Dunlap would be suing after all. He had received no apology and no evidence from the company’s investigation, she said, and the station was crafting “a narrative to avoid its own culpability.”
“The inescapable conclusion is that Entercom has allowed an anti-gay, bigoted, and hostile work environment to flourish,” she said in a statement, “and that Entercom as well as its corporate lawyers were aware of instances of homophobia and discrimination and did nothing to protect Seth or its LGBTQ+ employees.”
More recently, the company “tried to pressure him to resign,” she told NOLA.com.
Instead, on Thursday, he was fired.