Jamie Horowitz, the controversial television executive charged with leading Fox Sports into its high-profile ratings battle with ESPN, was dismissed from the network in surprising and abrupt fashion Monday, reportedly in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation.
Fox Sports President Eric Shanks announced Horowitz’s departure in an email to staff. He did not offer an explanation for the sudden move but alluded to the possibility that something was amiss.
“Everyone at FOX Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to — should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times,” Shanks told his staff. “These values are non-negotiable.”
Later Monday, the Los Angeles Times, citing an unnamed source, reported that 21st Century Fox launched an investigation last week into allegations of sexual harassment, and that several women at Fox Sports have been interviewed.
A spokesperson for the network confirmed Horowitz’s departure but said the network would not be making any further statements.
Horowitz did not respond to messages seeking comment. His attorney, Patricia Glaser, offered a quick defense of the TV executive, a former behind-the-scenes star at ESPN who is often credited for the rise of personality-focused programming at both ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
“The way Jamie has been treated by Fox is appalling,” Glaser said in a statement. “At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or human resources of any misconduct or an inability to adhere to professional conduct. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job, a job that until today he has performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
Fox Sports’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, has been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals for the past year, and Horowitz’s dismissal will fan claims that its culture of abuse spans multiple divisions. In May, Fox News parted ways with its most prominent on-air personality, Bill O’Reilly. The New York Times reported that five woman had been given a total $13 million by either O’Reilly or the network to silence their harassment allegations.
Roger Ailes, the controversial head of Fox News, was forced out shortly after Gretchen Carlson, a popular on-air personality, went public with her allegations, filing a lawsuit in New Jersey. While Ailes, who died in May, denied the charges, the network eventually settled the lawsuit, reportedly for $20 million.
“We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve,” Fox said in a statement at the time.
Horowitz, 40, was the president of Fox Sports National Networks, which put him in charge of FS1’s television programming and the network’s digital operations. He made headlines just last week when Fox Sports laid off many writers from its digital properties in an effort to focus on video content and promote FS1’s on-air personalities.
Since arriving at Fox Sports in 2015, he lured controversial commentators such as Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd, heavily promoting them across all platforms. The result: FS1’s daytime ratings had seen steady year-to-year increases but still lagged far behind ESPN’s.
Horowitz had been a rising star at ESPN, steering programming away from news and highlights and focusing more on debate and personalities. He created shows such as “SportsNation” and “Numbers Never Lie” and made “First Take” a morning staple by setting Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on opposites sides of a desk and letting them argue with each other.
Shortly after taking the FS1 reins, he told The Washington Post he wanted programming that was “provocative, independent, original, fearless, blunt.”
“I grew up on ‘SportsCenter,’ and I love ‘SportsCenter,’ ” he said in 2016. “My personal experience is probably consistent with most sports fans. I get my news and highlights from my phone. . . . The genre of news and highlights on linear television is dying, and it’s only because people are getting that information from their phones.”
In between working at ESPN and Fox Sports, he had a drama-filled three-month stint at NBC as a senior vice president and general manager of ‘Today.’ He was publicly fired amid allegations that he did not get along with colleagues.