A Sunday Morning Ethics Quiz: “Ass and Boobs” vs. “The Camel’s Toe” [Corrected]

Roenick, Lipinski and Weir. Wait…Johnny Weir is gay?

Ex- pro hockey star Jeremy Roenick has sued NBC Sports for wrongful termination, claiming the network discriminated against him as a heterosexual. At issue is his firing in February of this year for saying,  during a Barstool Sports podcast called “Spittin’ Chiclets”, while discussing his wife and Kathryn Tappen, a coworker,

“I’m swimming with my wife and Kathryn, and they’ve got their bikinis on, and they look fuckin’ smokin. Ass and boobs everywhere. It’s great.”

I suppose I should mention by way of context that sports fans do not listen to ex-hockey players  blather on “Barstool Sports” to be enlightened on the writings of Marcel Proust. Nonetheless, NBC quickly suspended Roenick, and though he issued an apology, his NBC supervisor, Sam Flood, subsequently informed him that he was fired.

[Notice of Correction: I originally wrote that Barstool Sports was an NBC production, It isn’t. So Roenick was fired for comments made when he was not under the auspices of NBC.]

What sparked the lawsuit now was the absence of any discipline levied by NBC sports after NBC Sports commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir participated this May in a leering promotional video for the At-Home Variety Show on the Peacock streaming service, joined by “Pitch Perfect” actors Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins.

 Lipinski showed a clip of Olympic team bronze medalist Bradie Tennell  from the  2018 Olympics, saying, “Nice camel spin into a toe loop,”  though Tennell did neither a camel spin nor a toe loop in the segment. Higgins responded: “Yes, the camel toe. Gail’s very familiar with that one.”

Banks, who plays “Pitch Perfect’s” Gail then said, “I am, I am.”

Later, Weir joked, “I’m really hoping we get to see her quads during this program,” though Tennell attempted no quadruple jumps at the Olympics. Banks replied, “Ah, easy, Johnny, your wife’s sitting right there.”

“Gail, we’re co-workers and besties,” Weir said. “Oh, I see,” Banks says. “Office romance, gotcha.”

In addition to the use of the vulgar term “camel toe,” the video seemed especially troubling because of the still roiling scandal regarding the sexual abuse of female Olympic skaters. U.S. Figure Skating issued a statement in response to the video saying that it “does not condone the descriptions used in this parody.” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of the legal advocacy non-profit Champion Women, was more direct, saying,

“U.S. Figure Skating has been told pointedly that it has a culture problem, one that makes their athletes uniquely vulnerable to sexual abuse,. This clip shows skating’s sport-insiders demeaning one of their best athletes by sexualizing her.

NBC Sports spokesperson Dan Masonson  emphasized that the video was a spoof and shrugged off the incident, saying, “In retrospect, this sketch could have been completed with generic footage.”

Roenick’s law suit points out that neither Lipinski nor Weir have been suspended or fired.  It also alleges that when Roenick told  Flood that Weir had used “colorful commentary” about skaters’ body parts during the 2018 Olympics, Flood responded that Weir “is gay and can say whatever.”

The suit also accuses NBC of breaching Roenick’s contract by firing him without good cause and by failing to give him a reasonable opportunity to improve his conduct.

Your gross Ethics Alarms Quiz this morning:

Does Jeremy Roenick Have a Good Case?

A few observations:

  • I assume that NBC was eager to dump Roenick for other reasons.
  • The use of the terms “ass and boobs” in reference to Roenick’s female co-worker could have been viewed as sexual harassment. However, one-time exclamations like that have seldom been found to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment, and typically a male employee so accused would receive a warning and have the opportunity to offer a defense.
  • “It’s a spoof” is a particularly weak justification for the vulgar Lipisnsky/Weir exchange, especially in the context of the Larry Nasser scandal that is back in the spotlight thanks to the Netflix documentary “Athlete A,” recently discussed here. The comment that got Roenick fired was hardly weighty.
  • How things have changed! Not all that long ago, NBC fired Charles Rocket for saying “fuck” on a Saturday Night Live broadcast. Roenick’s use of that word in his podcast, however, apparently had nothing to do with his suspension.
  • An NBC employee using “boobs” and “ass” on a non-NBC forum was deemed worthy of firing, but NBC employees using an equally vulgar term—I’d say more vulgar—on a network broadcast was not. That’s without even considering the sexual abuse scandal.

I think it’s undeniable that a double standard was at work here on the part of NBC.  Whether that will be enough for Roenick’s suit to prevail, I cannot tell.

16 thoughts on “A Sunday Morning Ethics Quiz: “Ass and Boobs” vs. “The Camel’s Toe” [Corrected]

  1. It’s probably going noplace. If the network was smart they wrote a contract with him that allows him to be removed for bringing disrepute or ridicule to the network. Maybe they had wanted to get rid of him for a while and this, plus the current political climate, just gave them the opening they needed. Maybe they’ll try to settle with him to avoid a prolonged lawsuit, though.

  2. Johnny Weir is gay

    The hell you say? I saw him play a gay character on Spinning Out and thought he was just a very good actor. Who knew?

    For the situation above, the…er… spoof, it was presumably vetted and approved by someone at NBC whole Jeremy Roenick’s comments were extemporaneous and thus lacking official sanction. I expect that matters.

      • Not arguing. And not germane to Jeremy Roenick’s problem. If NBC wants trashy content on their streaming service but on on-uh-Spittin’ Chiclets *stares into the camera for a beat* that’s their call, oui?

  3. Jack;

    (I’m a big fan of spittin chiclets as a former hockey player myself).
    Two things about the interview…
    Paul “biz-nasty” Bissonnette (one of the hosts) indirectly warned Roenick about where he was going and not to go there at that point in the interview…
    Chiclets is taped, then aired… Roenick had the opportunity to ask producer Mikey Granelli to edit it out and apparently didnt… My bet is that this factor, at least somewhat, will keep him from cashing in…

    Barstool Sports is not affiliated with NBC (Nothing But Crap?), rather it is part of Penn National Gaming…

    Chiclets is a great podcast, although it may be a little too Boston Bruins oriented for some folks and there are more F-bombs than in the Brian de Palma version of Scarface…

    Cheers, Mike
    (Bruins are back in action on the 29th with an exhibition game, BTW)

  4. I’m wondering whether Jeremy is the NHL’s Curt Shilling and he’s just not toeing the PC line sufficiently. He sure as hell looks a lot like Shill and they were both dominant super studs in Phoenix around the same time.

    • Schilling is about 3X smarter than Jeremy, and his faith and his manners would never permit him to be as vulgar in public. He got fired for criticizing Islam and Hillary, which is a hell of a lot more honorable than talking about boob and ass.

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