ESPN Gets Caught Up in Sports Emmy Scandal….

ESPN Gets Caught Up in Sports Emmy Scandal.

It’s been a strange start to 2024 for ESPN. The network drew huge audiences for its live College Football Playoffs broadcasts on Jan. 1 and again on Monday, Jan. 8, for the National Championship game. But the positive press went away quickly as the network was forced to deal with the drama caused on the Pat McAfee Show featuring Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Kimmel. With the Rodgers-Kimmel feud seemingly quieting down, the sports network now finds itself embroiled in another controversy just 11 days into the calendar year, featuring fake names used for Sports Emmy submissions.

ESPN executives participated in a scheme to secure over 30 Sports Emmys for on-air talent who could not receive them. Until last year, on-air talent could not receive Sports Emmys given to programs because they were also eligible to receive individual honors, creating a situation where they earned two Emmys for the same work.

To circumvent this rule, ESPN’s College GameDay executives since at least 2010 would use fake names for their talent and assign them “associate producer” positions. Upon receipt of the award, the executives would get the trophies re-engraved with the talent’s name.

On-air talent who received trophies include Kirk HerbstreitLee CorsoChris FowlerDesmond HowardShelley Smith, and Samantha Ponder. It’s unknown whether the talent knew their awards were improperly gained.

Herbstreit’s fake name was Kirk Henry, Corso’s was Lee Clark, Fowler’s was Chris Fulton, Howard’s was Dirk Howard, Smith’s was Shelley Saunders, and Ponder’s name was Steven Pounder.

The executives implicated in this scheme include Craig Lazarus, ESPN Vice President and Executive Producer of Original Content and features; Drew Gallagher, coordinating producer of ESPN’s college sports studio show; and Lee Fitting, who most recently oversaw production of Monday Night Football, College GameDay, the College Football Playoff, and many other properties within ESPN.

Fitting was let go from ESPN in August of 2023 after spending 25 years at the sports network. It’s unclear whether this scheme aided in his dismissal. He was recently named head of media and production at WWE.

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), which is responsible for the Sports Emmys, was the first to discover the scheme and launched an investigation, after which ESPN launched its own investigation.

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In a statement to The Athletic, ESPN said, “Some members of our team were clearly wrong in submitting certain names that may go back to 1997 in Emmy categories where they were not eligible for recognition or statuettes. This was a misguided attempt to recognize on-air individuals who were important members of our production team. Once current leadership was made aware, we apologized to NATAS for violating guidelines and worked closely with them to completely overhaul our submission process to safeguard against anything like this happening again,” adding, “We brought in outside counsel to conduct a full and thorough investigation, and individuals found to be responsible were disciplined by ESPN.”

ESPN has since returned 37 of the awards to NATAS, and more could be returned as SportsCenter anchors like Linda Cohn look like they have been caught up in the scheme.

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