Dear ESPN: I Know She’s Hot, But Fire Erin Andrews

…or at least suspend her. Show us that a male-dominated sports network can have a modicum of journalistic ethics, and won’t behave like a drooling traffic cop giving a buxom babe a pass for running a red light because she bats her eyes and flashes some cleavage.

You did the right thing in early January, when one of your broadcasters abused a female colleague in a sexist manner; some would say—certainly the fired Ron Franklin—that you reacted a little precipitously, but you are clearly taking a strong stand against gender bias in the workplace, and that’s commendable. Still, don’t you know that what your pin-up, “Dancing With the Stars” reporter Andrews did was far worse?

During your broadcast of the Rose Bowl, Andrews mentioned from the sidelines (By the way, don’t you think that the cliché use of feminine eye candy for sideline breaks is a little obvious and demeaning?) that Texas Christian players were having trouble getting traction on the field in their new Nike shoes. Then, within two weeks of the game, Andrews had signed a deal to endorse Reebok shoes, Nike’s rival.

Hmmmm.

This is what we in the ethics biz call “an appearance of impropriety,” or sometimes “say for pay.” A coincidence, you tell me? Prove it. Prove that Andrews wasn’t in negotiation with Reebok before the Rose Bowl. Or prove that her gratuitous slam at Reebok’s competitor didn’t help her get the new gig. You can’t, you know.

So far, you are saying that there will be no consequences for Andrews at all, which I suppose means she didn’t violate any policy or ethics code. Is that true? Is it true that your reporters can use their airtime, when we are supposedly being given objective information about the sport being broadcast, to grease the wheels for lucrative endorsement contracts? Is it acceptable for them to get direct payoffs to say good things about some teams and players and to criticize others?

Blogger Cohn Zohn has an excellent analogy:

“Imagine a restaurant critic pans a new Italian joint in North Beach, says it has bad service and the linguine with clams tastes salty. Fair enough. Critics do that. Two weeks later, we find out the critic is part-owner of a competing Italian restaurant two doors down. We feel cheated and wonder if the linguine really is that bad or if the reporter was trying to ruin the new place. We would lose faith in the reporter.”

And not just the reporter. The publication that hired the critic also can’t be trusted…especially if the critic continues to work there.

I don’t trust Erin Andrews now, and nothing she can say will change that. Even if she was innocent of intentionally helping Reebok with her criticism of Nike, then when Reebok approached her, she had an obligation to say,”I’m sorry. Taking this offer would harm my credibility and that of my employer.” If she had already been contacted by Reebok, as I strongly suspect, then she was, in essence, on the take when she criticized Nike shoes’ traction performance. She had a clear conflict of interest, and she should have informed her employer, you, about it. She shouldn’t have done the Rose Bowl assignment at all—if she couldn’t report objectively on the players shoes, she couldn’t do her job.

If that doesn’t matter enough to you, if your reputation for integrity, fair reporting and objectivity is that unimportant to you, then by all means, let Erin Andrews continue her drive to be the next Katie Couric or Kelli Ripa at the cost of your viewers’ trust.

Otherwise. you know what you have to do.

Send that cute Erin Andrews a pink slip.

The bad kind.

Your Friend,

Ethics Alarms

5 thoughts on “Dear ESPN: I Know She’s Hot, But Fire Erin Andrews

  1. Good catch, Jack. I watched the game and heard her report, and thought at the time, unusual for a reporter to mention the shoe brand, unless they’re plugging the sponsor. I’ve seen a million..well, a hundred…games, mostly in snow or ice, where the type of shoe was an issue: cleats or rubber. Never before heard that “the Nikes” were unsat. That’s awful. (Full disclosure: I use Nike as a BAD example in my business ethics course.)

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